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POEMS (19I4-I927) 

POEMS (1929) 


LARS porsena: or the future op 


William Heinemann 

The Seizin Press 

Martin Seeker 

Jonathan Cape 

swearing Kegan Paul 

Elkin, Mathews and 

ROBHil (tRA\ IS 


An Autobiography 








Robert Graves, 1929 Frontispiece 

CuiNCHY Brick-stacks seen from a British trench on 
the Givenchy canal-bank. The white placarded 
brick-stack is in the British support line; the 
ones beyond are held by the Germans. The 
village of Auchy is seen in the distance, {By 
courtesy of the Imperial War Museum,) To face page 152 

Trench Map showing the Cambrin-Cuinchy- 
Vermelles Trench Sector in the Summer 
OF 1915, Each square-side measures 500 yards 
and is ticked off into 50-yard units. Only 
the German trench-system is shown in detail; 
a broken pencil-line marks the approximate 
course of the British front trench. The mine- 
craters appear as stars in No Man’s Land. 

The brick-stacks in the German line appear as 
minute squares; those held by the British are 
not marked. The intended line of advance of 
the 19th Brigade on September 25th is shown 
in pencil on this map, which is the one that 
I carried on that day 190 

Maps. {Reproduced by the courtesy of the Imperial 
War Museum,) 

Somme Trench Map - The Fricourt Sector, 

1916. This map fits against the map 

facing page 262 246 


Somme Trench Map - Mametz Wood and 
High Wood, 1916. This map fits against 
the map facing page 246 To face page 262 

Robert Graves, from a pastel by Eric Kennington 296 

Various Records, mostly self-explanatory. The 
Court of Inquiry mentioned in the bottom 
left-hand message was to decide whether the 
wound of a man in the Public Schools Battalion 
- a rifle-shot through his foot - was self-inflicted 
or accidental. It was self-inflicted. B, Echelon 
meant the part of the battalion not in the 
trenches. Idol was the code-name for the 
Second Battalion the Royal Welch Fusiliers. 

The notebook leaf is the end of my 1915 diary 
only three weeks after I began itj I used my 
letters home as a diary after that. The message 
about Sergeant Varcoe was from Captain Samson 
shortly before his deathj I was temporarily 
attached to his company 322 

1929, The Second Battalion the Royal Welch 
Fusiliers back to pre-war soldiering. The 
regimental Royal goat^ the regimental goat- 
major and the regimental pioneers (wearing white 
leather aprons and gauntlets - a special regimental 



privilege) on church parade at Wiesbaden on 
the Rhine. The band follows, regimentally. 

The goat has a regimental number and draws 
rations like a private soldier. ‘Some speak of 
Alexander, and some of Hercules, , . / To face fage 364 


The tympanum is worn thin. 

The iris is become transparent. 

The sense has overlasted. 

Sense itself is transparent. 

Speed has caught up with speed. 

Earth rounds out earth. 

The mind puts the mind by. 

Clear spectacle: where is the eye? 

All is lost, no danger 
Forces the heroic hand. 

No bodies in bodies stand 
Oppositely. The complete world 
Is likeness in every comer. 

The names of contrast fall 
Into the widening centre. 

A dry sea extends the universal. 

No suit and no denial 
Disturb the general proof. 

Logic has logic, they remain 
Quiet in each other’s arms. 

Or were otherwise insane. 

With all lost and nothing to prove 
That even nothing can be through love. 


(From Love as LovCy DeafJk as I>eath) 





The objects of this autobiography, written at the age of 
thirty-three, are simple enough: an opportunity for a formal 
good-bye to you and to you and to you and to me and to all 
that; forgetfulness, because once all this has been settled in 
my mind and written down and published it need never be 
thought about again; money. Mr. Bentley once wrote: 

The science of geography 
Is different from biography: 

Geography is about maps. 

Biography is about chaps. 

The rhyme might have been taken further to show how 
closely, nevertheless, these things are linked. For while 
maps are the biographical treatment of geography, biography 
is the geographical treatment of chaps. Chaps who are made 
the subjects of biography have by effort, or by accident, put 
themselves on the contemporary map as geographical 
features; but seldom have reality by themselves as proper 
chaps. So that Wh6*s Who? though claiming to be a diction- 
ary of biography, is hardly less of a geographical gazetteer 
than Burke's Peerage. . . . One of the few simple people 
I have known who have had a philosophic contempt for 
such gazetteering was Old Joe, a battalion quartermaster 
in France. He was a proper chap. When he had won 
his D.s.o. for being the only quartermaster in the Seventh 
Division to get up rations to his battalion in the firing 
line at, I think, the Passchendaele show, he was sent a 
slip to complete with biographical details for the ap- 
propriate directory. He looked contemptuously at the 


Ch. 1 


various headings. Disregarding ‘date and place of birth,’ 
and even ‘military campaigns,’ he filled in two items 

Issue . . Rum, rifles, etc. 

Family seat . My khaki pants. 

And yet even proper chaps have their formal geography, 
however little it may mean to them. They have birth 
certificates, passports, relatives, earliest recollections, and 
even, sometimes, degrees and publications and campaigns 
to itemize, like all the irrelevant people, the people with only 
geographical reality. And the less that all these biographical 
items mean to them the more particularly and faithfully can 
they fill them in, if ever they feel so inclined. When loyalties 
have become negligible and friends have all either deserted 
in alarm or died, or been dismissed, or happen to be chaps 
to whom geography is also without significance, the task is 
easy for them. They do not have to wait until they are at 
least ninety before publishing, and even then only tell the 
truth about characters long dead and without influential 

As a proof of my readiness to accept biographical con- 
vention, let me at once record my two earliest recollections. 
The first is being held up to the window to watch a carnival 
procession for the Diamond Jubilee in 1897 (this was at 
Wimbledon, where I had been bom on 24th July 1895). 
The second, an earlier recollection still, is looking up with 
a sort of despondent terror at a cupboard in the nursery, 
which stood accidentally open and which was filled to the 
ceiling with octavo volumes of Shakespeare. My father was 
organiser of a Shakespeare reading circle. I did not know 


until long afterwards that it was the Shakespeare cupboard, 
but I, apparently, had then a strong instinct against drawing- 
room activities. It is only recently that I have overcome my 
education and gone back to this early intuitional spontaneous- 

When distinguished visitors came to the house, like Sir 
Sidney Lee with his Shakespearean scholarship, and Lord 
Ashbourne, not yet a peer, with his loud talk of ‘Ireland for 
the Irish,’ and his saffron kilt, and Mr. Eustace Miles with his 
samples of edible nuts, I knew all about them in my way. I had 
summed up correctly and finally my Uncle Charles of the 
Spectator zadi Punch, and my Aunt Grace, who came in a carriage 
and pair, and whose arrival always caused a flutter because she 
was Lady Pontifex, and all the rest of my relations. And I 
had no illusions about Algernon Charles Swinburne, who 
often used to stop my perambulator when he met it on 
Nurses’ Walk, at the edge of Wimbledon Common, and pat 
me on the head and kiss me; he was an inveterate pram- 
stopper and patter and kisser. Nurses’ Walk lay between 
‘The Pines,’ Putney (where he lived with Watts-Dunton) 
and the Rose and Crown public-house, where he went for 
his daily pint of beer; Watts-Dunton allowed him twopence 
for that and no more. I did not know that Swinburne was a 
poet, but I knew that he was no good. Swinburne, by the 
way, when a very young man, went to Walter Savage Landor, 
then a very old man, and asked for and was given a poet’s 
blessing; and Landor when a child had been patted on the 
head by Dr. Samuel Johnson; and Johnson when a child 
had been taken to London to be touched by Queen Anne for 
scrofula, the King’s evil; and Queen Anne when a child . . . 

But I mentioned the Shakespeare reading circle. It went 
on for years, and when I was sixteen curiosity finally sent 



me to one of the meetings. I remember the vivacity with 
which my mother read the part of Katherine in the Taming 
of the Shrew to my father’s Petruchio, and the compliments 
on their performance which the other members gave me. 
Mr. and Mrs. Maurice Hill were two of the most popular 
members of the circle. This meeting took place some years 
before they became Mr. Justice Hill and Lady Hill, and 
some years, too, before I looked into The Shrew. I remember 
the lemonade glasses, the cucumber sandwiches, the fetits 
fours, the drawing-room knick-knacks, the chrysanthemums 
in bowls, and the semi-circle of easy chairs around the fire. 
The gentle voice of Mr. Maurice Hill as Hortentio was 
admonishing my father: ‘Thou go thy ways, thou hast tamed 
a cursed shrew.’ I myself as Lucio was ending the perform- 
ance with: "Tis a wonder by your leave she will be tamed so.’ I 
must go one day to hear him speak his lines as Judge of the 
Divorce Courts; his admonishments have become famous. 

After earliest recollections I should perhaps give a pass- 
port description of myself and let the items enlarge them- 
selves. Date of birth. . . . Place of birth. ... I have 
given those. Profession. In my passport I am down as 
‘university professor.’ That was a convenience for 1926, 
when I first took it out. I thought of putting ‘writer,’ but 
people who are concerned with passports have complicated 
reactions to the word. ‘University professor’ wins a simple 
reaction — dull respect. No questions asked. So also with 
‘army captain (pensioned list).’ 

My height is given as six feet two inches, my eyes as 
grey, and my hair as black. To ‘black’ should be added 
‘thick and curly.’ I am described as having no special 
peculiarity. This is untrue. For a start, there is my big, 
once aquiline, now crooked nose. I broke it at Charterhouse 



playing Rugger with Soccer players. (I broke another player’s 
nose myself in the same game.) That unsteadied it, and 
boxing sent it askew. Finally, it was operated on. It is very 
crooked. It was once useful as a vertical line of demarcation 
between the left and right sides of my face, which are 
naturally unassorted - my eyes, eyebrows, and ears being all 
set noticeably crooked and my cheek-bones, which are 
rather high, being on different levels. My mouth is what is 
known as ‘full’ and my smile is crooked; when I was thirteen 
I broke two front teeth and became sensitive about showing 
them. My hands and feet are large. I weigh about twelve- 
stone four. My best comic turn is a double-jointed pelvis; 
I can sit on a table and rap like the Fox sisters with it. One 
shoulder is distinctly lower than the other, but that is 
because of a lung wound in the war. I do not carry a watch 
because I always magnetize the main-spring; during the war, 
when there was an army order that officers should carry 
watches and synchronize them daily, I had to buy two new 
ones every month. Medically, I am a thoroughly ‘good life.’ 

My passport gives my nationality as ‘British subject.’ 
Here I might parody Marcus Aurelius, who begins his 
Golden Book with the various ancestors and relations to 
whom he owes the virtues of a worthy Roman Emperor. 
Something of the sort about myself, and why I am not a 
Roman Emperor or even, except on occasions, an English 
gentleman. My mother’s father’s family, the von Ranke’s, 
was a family of Saxon country pastors, not anciently noble. 
Leopold von Ranke, the first modern historian, my great- 
uncle, brought the ‘von’ into the family. To him I owe my 
historical method. It was he who wrote, to the scandal of his 
contemporaries: ‘I am a historian before I am a Christian; 
my object is simply to find out how the things actually 




occurred,’ and of Michelet the French historian: ‘He wrote 
history in a style in which the truth could not be told.’ 
Thomas Carlyle decried him as ‘Dry-as-Dust’; to his credit. 
To Heinrich von Ranke, my grandfather, I owe my clumsy 
largeness, my endurance, energy, seriousness, and my thick 
hair. He was rebellious and even atheistic in his youth. 
As a medical student at a Prussian university he was involved 
in the political disturbances of 1848. He and a number of 
student friends demonstrated in favour of Karl Marx at the 
time of his trial for high treason. Like Marx, they had to 
leave the country. He came to London and finished his 
medical course there. In 1859 he went to the Crimea with 
the British forces as a regimental surgeon. All I know about 
this is a chance remark that he made to me as a child: ‘It is 
not always the big bodies that are the strongest. When I 
was at Sevastopol in the trenches I saw the great British 
Guards crack up and die by the score, while the little sappers 
took no harm.’ Still, his big body carried him very well. 

He married, in London, my grandmother, a Schleswig- 
Dane. She was the daughter of Tiarks, the Greenwich 
astronomer. She was tiny, saintly, frightened. Before her 
father took to astronomy the Tiarks family had, it seems, 
followed the Danish country system, not at all a bad one, of 
alternate professions for father and son. The odd generations 
were tinsmiths and the even generations were pastors. My 
gentler characteristics trace back to my grandmother. She 
had ten children; the eldest of these was my mother, who 
was born in London. My grandfather’s atheism and radical- 
ism sobered down. He eventually returned to Germany, 
where he became a well-known children’s doctor at Munich. 
He was about the first doctor in Europe to insist on clean 
milk for his child patients. When he found that he could not 


get clean milk to the hospitals by ordinary means he started 
a model dairy-farm himself. His agnosticism grieved my 
grandmother; she never ceased to pray for him, but con- 
centrated more particularly on saving the next generation. 
She was a Lutheran. My grandfather did not die entirely 
unregenerate; his last words were: ‘The God of my fathers, 
to Him at least I hold.’ I do not know exactly what he meant 
by that, but it was a statement consistent with his angry 
patriarchal moods, with his acceptance of a prominent place 
in Bavarian society as Herr Geheimrat Ritter von Ranke, and 
with his loyalty to the Kaiser, with whom once or twice he 
went deer-shooting. It meant, practically, that he was a good 
Liberal in religion as in politics, and that my grandmother 
need not have worried. I prefer my German relations to my 
Irish relations; they have high principles, are easy, generous, 
and serious. The men have fought duels not for cheap 
personal honour, but in the public interest — called out, for 
example, because they have protested publicly against the 
scandalous behaviour of some superior officer or official. 
One of them who was in the German consular service lost 
seniority, just before the war, I was told, because he refused 
to use the consulate as a clearing-place for secret-service 
reports. They are not heavy drinkers either. My grand- 
father, as a student at the regular university ‘drunks,’ was 
in the habit of pouring his beer down into his eighteen- 
fortyish riding-boots. His children were brought up to 
speak English in their home, and always looked to England 
as the home of culture and progress. The women were noble 
and patient, and kept their eyes on the ground when they 
went out walking. 

At the age of eighteen my mother was sent to England as 
companion to a lonely old woman who had befriended my 




grandmother when she was an orphan. For seventeen years 
she waited hand and foot on this old lady, who for the last 
few years was perfectly senile. When she finally died, my 
mother determined to go to India, after a short training as 
a medical missionary. This ambition was baulked by her 
meeting my father, a widower with five children; it was plain 
to her that she could do as good work on the home-mission 

About the other side of my family. The Graves’ have a 
pedigree that dates back to the Conquest, but is good as far 
as the reign of Henry VII. Colonel Graves, the regicide, 
who was Ireton’s chief of horse, is claimed as the founder of 
the Irish branch of the family. Limerick was its centre. 
There were occasional soldiers and doctors in it, but they 
were collaterals; in the direct male line was a sequence of 
rectors, deans, and bishops. The Limerick Graves’ have no 
‘hands’ or mechanical sense; instead they have a wide 
reputation as conversationalists. In those of my relatives 
who have the family characteristics most strongly marked, 
unnecessary talk is a nervous disorder. Not bad talk as talk 
goes; usually informative, often witty, but it goes on and on 
and on and on and on. The von Ranke’s have, I think, little 
mechanical aptitude either. It is most inconvenient to have 
been born into the age of the internal-combustion engine 
and the electric dynamo and to have no sympathy with them; 
a push bicycle, a primus stove, and an army rifle mark the 
bounds of my mechanical capacity. 

My grandfather, on this side, was Protestant Bishop of 
Limerick. He had eight, or was it ten, children. He was a 
little man and a remarkable mathematician; he first formulated 
some theory or other of spherical conics. He was also an 
antiquary, and discovered the key to ancient Irish Ogham 




script. He was hard and, by reputation, far from generous. 
A gentleman and a scholar, and respected throughout the 
countryside on that account. He and the Catholic Bishop 
were on the very best terms. They cracked Latin jokes at 
each other, discussed fine points of scholarship, and were 
unclerical enough not to take their religious differences too 

When I was in Limerick as a soldier of the garrison some 
twenty-five years after my grandfather’s death, I heard a lot 
about Bishop Graves from the townsfolk. The Catholic 
Bishop had once joked him about the size of his family, and 
my grandfather had retorted warmly with the text about the 
blessedness of the man who has his quiver full of arrows, 
to which the Catholic answered briefly and severely: ‘The 
ancient Jewish quiver only held six.’ My grandfather’s 
wake, they said, was the longest ever seen in the town of 
Limerick; it stretched from the cathedral right down 
O’Connell Street and over Sarsfield Bridge, and I do not 
know how many miles Irish beyond. He blessed me when 
I was a child, but I do not remember that. 

Of my father’s mother, who was a Scotswoman, a Cheyne 
from Aberdeen, I have been able to get no information at all 
beyond the fact that she was ‘a very beautiful woman,’ I can 
only conclude that most of what she said or did passed un- 
noticed in the rivalry of family conversations. The Cheyne 
pedigree was better th^an the Graves’; it was flawless right 
back to the medieval Scottish kings, to the two Balliols, 
the first and second Davids, and the Bruce. In later times 
the Cheynes had been doctors and physicians. But my 
father is engaged at the same time as myself on his auto- 
biography, and no doubt he will write at length about all this. 

My father, then, met my mother some time in the early 




’nineties. He had previously been married to one of the Irish 
Coopers, of Cooper’s Hill, near Limerick. The Coopers 
were an even more Irish family than the Graves’. The story 
is that when Cromwell came to Ireland and ravaged the 
country, Moira O’Brien, the last surviving member of the 
great clan O’Brien, who were the paramount chiefs of the 
country round Limerick, came to him one day and said: 
‘General, you have killed my father and my uncles, my 
husband and my brothers. I am left as the sole heiress of 
these lands. Do you intend to confiscate them.?’ Cromwell 
is said to have been struck by her magnificent presence and 
to have answered that that certainly had been his intention. 
But that she could keep her lands, or a part of them, on 
condition that she married one of his officers. And so the 
officers of the regiment which had taken a leading part in 
hunting down the O’Briens were invited to take a pack of 
cards and cut for the privilege of marrying Moira and 
succeeding to the estate. The winner was one Ensign 
Cooper. Moira, a few weeks after her marriage, found herself 
pregnant. Convinced that it was a male heir, as indeed it 
proved, she kicked her husband to death. It is said that she 
kicked him in the pit of the stomach after making him drunk. 
The Coopers have always been a haunted family and 
Hibemicis ipsis Hihemicores. Jane Cooper, whom my father 
married, died of consumption. 

The Graves family was thin-nosed and inclined to petu- 
lance, but never depraved, cruel, or hysterical. A persistent 
literary tradition; of Richard, a minor poet and a friend of 
Shenstone; and John Thomas, who was a mathematician and 
jurist and contributed to Sir William Hamilton’s discovery 
of quaternions; and Richard, a divine and regius professor 
of ^eek; and James, an archaeologist; and Robert, who 




invented the disease called after him and was a friend of 
Turner’s; and Robert, who was a classicist and theologian 
and a friend of Wordsworth’s; and Richard, another divine; 
and Robert, another divine; and other Robert’s, James’s, 
Thomas’s and Richard’s, and Clarissa, one of the toasts of 
Ireland, who married Leopold von Ranke (at Windermere 
Church) and linked the Graves and von Ranke families a 
couple of generations before my father and mother married. 
See the British Museum catalogue for an eighteenth and 
nineteenth-century record of Graves’ literary history. 

It was through this Clarissa-Leopold relationship that my 
father met my mother. My mother told him at once that she 
liked Father O' Flynn, for writing which my father will be 
chiefly remembered. He put the words to a traditional jig 
tune. The Top of Cork Road, which he remembered from his 
boyhood. Sir Charles Stanford supplied a few chords for the 
setting. My father sold the complete rights for a guinea. 
The publisher made thousands. Sir Charles Stanford, who 
drew a royalty as the composer, also made a very large sum. 
Recently my father has made a few pounds from gramophone 
rights. He has never been bitter about all this, but he has 
more than once impressed on me almost religiously never to 
sell for a sum down the complete rights of any work of mine 

I am glad in a way that my father was a poet. This at 
least saved me from any false reverence of poets, and his 
work was never an oppression to me. I am even very 
pleased when I meet people who know his work and not 
mine. Some of his songs I sing without prejudice; when 
washing up after meals or shelling peas or on similar 
occasions. He never once tried to teach me how to write, or 
showed any understanding of my serious work; he was 

Ch. I 


always more ready to ask advice about his own work than 
to offer it for mine. He never tried to stop me writing and 
was glad of my first successes. His light-hearted early work 
is the best. His Invention oj Wine, for instance, which begins: 

Ere Bacchus could talk 
Or dacently walk, 

Down Olympus he jumped 
From the arms of his nurse. 

And though ten years in all 
Were consumed by the fall 
He might have fallen further 
And fared a dale worse. 

After he married my mother and became a convinced tee- 
totaller he lost something of this easy playfulness. 

He broke the ecclesiastical sequence. His great-grand- 
father had been a dean, his grandfather a rector, his father 
a bishop, but he himself was never more than a lay-reader. 
And he broke the geographical connection with Ireland, for 
which I cannot be too grateful to him. I am much harder 
on my relations and much more careful of associating with 
them than I am with strangers. But I can in certain respects 
admire my father and mother. My father for his simplicity 
and persistence and my mother for her seriousness and 
strength. Both for their generosity. They never bullied me 
or in any way exceeded their ordinary parental rights, and 
were grieved rather than angered by my default from 
formal religion. In physique and general characteristics my 
mother’s side is stronger in me on the whole. But I am subject 
to many habits of speech and movement characteristic of 
the Graves’, most of them eccentric. Such as finding it 


difficult to walk straight down a street, getting tired of 
sentences when half-way through and leaving them in the 
air, walking with the hands folded in a particular way behind 
the back, and being subject to sudden and most disconcerting 
spells of complete amnesia. These fits, so far as I can discover, 
serve no useful purpose, and the worst about them is that 
they tend to produce in the subject the same sort of dis- 
honesty that deaf people have when they miss the thread of 
conversation. They dare not be left behind and rely on their 
intuition and bluff to get them through. This disability is 
most marked in very cold weather. I do not now talk too 
much except when I have been drinking or when I meet 
someone who was with me in France. The Graves’ have 
good minds for purposes like examinations, writing graceful 
Latin verse, filling in forms, and solving puzzles (when we 
children were invited to parties where guessing games and 
brain-tests were played we never failed to win). They have 
a good eye for ball games, and a graceful style. I inherited the 
eye, but not the style; my mother’s family are entirely 
without style and I went that way. I have an ugly but fairly 
secure seat on a horse. There is a coldness in the Graves’ 
which is anti-sentimental to the point of insolence, a necessary 
check to the goodness of heart from which my mother’s 
family suffers. The Graves’, it is fair to generalize, though 
loyal to the British governing class to which they belong, 
and so to the Constitution, are individualists; the von 
Ranke’s regard their membership of the corresponding 
class in Germany as a sacred trust enabling them to do the 
more responsible work in the service of humanity. Recently, 
when a von Ranke entered a film studio, the family felt itself 

The most useful and at the same time most dangerous 


gift that I owe to my father’s side of the family — probably 
more to the Cheynes than the Graves’ - is that I am always 
able, when it is a question of dealing with officials or getting 
privileges from public institutions which grudge them, to 
masquerade as a gentleman. Whatever I happen to be 
wearing; and because the clothes I wear are not what gentle- 
men usually wear, and yet I do not seem to be an artist or 
effeminate, and my accent and gestures are irreproachable, 
I have even been ‘placed’ as the heir to a dukedom, whose 
perfect confidence in his rank would explain all such eccen- 
tricity. In this way I have been told that I seem, paradoxi- 
cally, to be more of a gentleman even, than one of my elder 
brothers who spent a number of years as a consular official 
in the Near East. His wardrobe is almost too carefully a 
gentleman’s, and he does not allow himself the pseudo-ducal 
privilege of having disreputable acquaintances and saying on 
all occasions what he really means. About this being a 
gentleman business: I paid so heavily for the fourteen years 
of my gentleman’s education that I feel entitled occasionally 
to get some sort of return. 


My mother married my father largely, it seems, to help 
him out with his five motherless children. Having any 
herself was a secondary consideration. But first she had a 
girl, then she had another girl, and it was very nice of coarse 
to have them, but slightly disappointing, because she 
belonged to the generation and the tradition that made a 
son the really important event; then I came and I was a fine 
healthy child. She was forty when I was born and my 
father was forty-nine. Four years later she had another son 
and four years later she had still another son. The desired 
preponderance of male over female was established and 
twice five made ten. The gap of two generations between 
my parents and me was easier in a way to bridge than a 
single generation gap. Children seldom quarrel with their 
grandparents, and I have been able to think of my mother 
and father as grandparents. Also, a family of ten means a 
dilution of parental affection; the members tend to become 
indistinct. I have often been called: ‘Philip, Richard, 
Charles, I mean Robert.’ 

My father was a very busy man, an inspector of schools 
for the Southwark district of London, and we children saw 
practically nothing of him except during the holidays. Then 
he was very sweet and playful and told us stories with the 
formal beginning, not ‘once upon a time,’ but always ‘and 
so the old gardener blew his nose on a red pocket handker- 
chief.’ He occasionally played games with us, but for the 
most part when he was not doing educational work he was 
doing literary work or being president of literary or temper- 
ance societies. My mother was so busy running the house- 
hold and conscientiously carrying out her social obligations 



as my father’s wife that we did not see her continuously, 
unless on Sunday or when we happened to be ill. We had 
a nurse and we had each other and that was companionship 
enough. My father’s chief part in our education was to insist 
on our speaking grammatically, pronouncing words correctly, 
and using no slang. He left our religious instruction entirely 
to my mother, though he officiated at family prayers, which 
the servants were expected to attend, every morning before 
breakfast. Punishments, such as being sent to bed early or 
being stood in the corner, were in the hands of my mother. 
Corporal punishment, never severe and given with a slipper, 
was my father’s business. We learned to be strong moralists 
and spent a great deal of our time on self-examination and 
good resolutions. My sister Rosaleen put up a printed 
notice in her corner of the nursery - it might just as well 
have been put up by me: ‘I must not say bang bust or pig 
bucket, for it is rude.’ 

We were given very little pocket-money — a penny a 
week with a rise to twopence at the age of twelve or so, and 
we were encouraged to give part at least of any odd money 
that came to us from uncles or other visitors to Dr. 
Barnardo’s Homes and (this frightened us a bit) to beggars. 
There was one blind beggar at Wimbledon who used to sit 
on the pavement reading the Bible aloud in Braille; he was 
not really blind, but able to turn his eyes up and keep the 
pupils concealed for minutes at a time under drooping lids 
which were artificially inflamed. We often gave to him. 
He died a rich man and had been able to provide his son 
with a college education. The first distinguished writer that 
I remember meeting after Swinburne was P. G. Wodehouse, 
a friend of one of my brothers; he was then in the early 
twenties, on the staff of the Globe, and was writing school 


stories in The Captain magazine. He gave me a penny, 
advising me to get marsh-mallows with it. I was too shy to 
express my gratitude at the time; and have never since 
permitted myself to be critical about his work. 

I had great religious fervour which persisted until shortly 
after my confirmation at the age of sixteen. I remember the 
incredulity with which I first heard that there actually were 
people, people baptized like myself into the Church of 
England, who did not believe in Jesus. I never met an 
unbeliever in all these years. As soon as I did, it was all over 
with my simple faith in the literal fundamentalist inter- 
pretation of the Bible. This was bad luck on my parents, 
but they were doomed to it. One married couple that I 
know, belonging to the same generation, decided that the 
best way in the end to ensure a proper religious attitude in 
their children, was not to teach them any religion at all until 
they were able to understand it in some degree of fulness. 
The children were sent to schools where no religious training 
was given. At the age of thirteen the eldest boy came 
indignantly to his father and said: ‘Look here, father, I 
think you’ve treated me very badly. The other chaps laugh 
at me because I don’t know anything about God. And who’s 
this chap Jesus.? When I ask them they won’t tell me, they 
think I am joking.’ So the long-hoped-for moment had 
arrived. The father told the boy to call his sister, who was 
a year younger than him, because he had something very 
important to tell them both. Then very reverently and 
carefully he told them the Gospel story. He had always 
planned to tell it to them in this way. The children did not 
interrupt him. When finally he had finished there was a 
silence. Then the girl said, rather embarrassed: ‘Really, 
father, I think that is the silliest story I’ve heard since I 

Ck. II 


was a kid.’ The boy said: ‘Poor chap. But what about it, 

I have asked many of my acquaintances at what point in 
their childhood or adolescence they became class-conscious, 
but have never been given a satisfactory answer. I remember 
when it happened to me. When I was four and a half I 
caught scarlet fever; my younger brother had just been born, 
and it was impossible for me to have scarlet fever in the 
house, so I was sent off to a public fever hospital. There 
was only one other bourgeois child in the ward; the rest 
were all proletarians. I did not notice particularly that the 
attitude of the nurses or the other patients to me was 
diiferent; I accepted the kindness and spoiling easily, 
because I was accustomed to it. But I was astonished at 
the respect and even reverence that this other little boy, a 
clergyman’s child, was given. ‘Oh,’ the nurses would cry 
after he had gone; ‘Oh,’ they cried, ‘he did look a little 
gentleman in his pretty white pellisse when they came to 
take him away.’ ‘He was a fair toff,’ echoed the little 
proletarians. When I came home from hospital, after being 
there about two months, my accent was commented on and 
I was told that the boys in the ward had been very vulgar. 
I did not know what ‘vulgar’ meant; it had to be explained 
to me. About a year later I met Arthur, a boy of about nine, 
who had been in the ward and taught me how to play 
cricket when I was getting better; I was then at my first 
preparatory school and he was a ragged errand-boy. In 
hospital we had all worn the same hospital nightgown, and 
I had not realized that we came off such different shelves. 
But now I suddenly recognized with my first shudder of 
gentility that there were two sorts of people — ourselves and 
the lower classes. The servants were trained to call us AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 31 

children, even when we were tiny, Master Robert, Miss 
Rosaleen, and Miss Clarissa, but I had not realized that 
these were titles of respect. I had thought of ‘Master’ 
and ‘Miss’ merely as vocative prefixes used when address- 
ing other people’s children. But now I realized that 
the servants were the lower classes, and that we were 

I accepted this class separation as naturally as I had 
accepted religious dogma, and did not finally discard 
gentility until nearly twenty years later. My mother and 
father were never of the aggressive, shoot-’em-down type. 
They were Liberals or, more strictly, Liberal-Unionists. 
In religious theory, at least, they treated their employees as 
fellow-creatures. But social distinctions remained clearly 
defined. That was religion too: 

He made them high or lowly. 

And ordered their estates. 

I can well recall the tone of my mother’s voice when she 
informed the maids that they could have what was left of 
the pudding, or scolded the cook for some carelessness. It 
was a forced hardness, made almost harsh by embarrass- 
ment. My mother was gemutlich by nature. She would, I 
believe, have given a lot to be able to dispense with servants 
altogether. They were a foreign body in the house. I 
remember what the servants’ bedrooms used to look like. 
By a convention of the times they were the only rooms in 
the house that had no carpet or linoleum; they were on the 
top landing on the dullest side of the house. The gaunt, 
unfriendly-looking beds, and the hanging-cupboards with 
faded cotton curtains, instead of wardrobes with glass doors 

Ch. II 


as in the other rooms. All this uncouthness made me think 
of the servants as somehow not quite human. The type of 
servant that came was not very good; only those with not 
particularly good references would apply for a situation where 
there were ten in the family. And because it was such a 
large house, and there was hardly a single tidy person in the 
household, they were constantly giving notice. There was 
too much work they said. So that the tendency to think of 
them as only half human was increased; they never had time* 
to get fixed as human beings. 

The bridge between the servants and ourselves was our 
nurse. She gave us her own passport on the first day she 
came: ‘Emily Dykes is my name; England is my nation; 
Netheravon is my dwelling-place, and Christ is my salvation.’ 
Though she called us Miss and Master she spoke it in no 
servant tone. In a practical way she came to be more to us 
than our mother. I began to despise her at about the age of 
twelve — she was then nurse to my younger brothers — when 
I found that my education was now in advance of hers, and 
that if I struggled with her I was able to trip her up and 
bruise her quite easily. Besides, she was a Baptist and went 
to chapel; I realized by that time that the Baptists were, like 
the Wesleyans and Methodists, the social inferiors of the 
members of the Church of England. 

I was brought up with a horror of Catholicism and this 
remained with me for a very long time. It was not a case of 
once a Protestant always a Protestant, but rather that when 
I ceased to be Protestant I was further off than ever from 
being Catholic. I discarded Protestantism in horror of its 
Catholic element. My religious training developed in me a 
great capacity for fear (I was perpetually tortured by the fear 
of hell), a superstitious conscience and a sexual embarrass- 

Ct. II 


ment. I was very long indeed in getting rid of all this. 
Nancy Nicholson and I (later on in this story) were most 
careful not to give our four children an early religious 
training. They were not even baptized. 

The last thing that is discarded by Protestants when they 
reject religion altogether is a vision of Christ as the perfect 
man. That persisted with me, sentimentally, for years. At 
*^e age of nineteen I wrote a poem called ‘In the Wilderness.' 
It was about Christ meeting the scapegoat — a silly, quaint 
poem — and has appeared in at least seventy anthologies. 
Its perpetual recurrence. Strangers are always writing to me 
to say what a beautiful poem it is, and how much strength it 
has given them, and would I, etc.? Here, for instance, is a 
letter that came yesterday: 

Sir, -I heard with great delight your beautiful poem 
‘In the Wilderness,’ broadcast from 2LO last night, and am 
writing to you because your poem has given me strength 
and hope. I am a gentlelady in need — in great need -not 
of a gift, but of a on interest of 5 per cent. I also need 
a kind friend to show me human sympathy and to help me 
if possible by an introduction to a really upright and con- 
scientious London solicitor who will fight my cause, not 
primarily for the filthy lucre, but because it is waging the 
the battle of Right against the most infamous Wrong. First 
of all I ask you to believe that I am writing you the simple 
truth. I also am gifted as a writer, but as my physical health 
has always been a great struggle, and poverty from my 
childhood has been my lot, and I will not stoop to write 
down to the popular taste, and perhaps, also, because I have 
no influential friends to give me a helping hand, I earn very 
little by my pen. But I know how to wield a pen, and I am 

Ch. II 


going to put myself into this letter just as I am - I am not 
apt to deceive, I hate lies and every form of deception. This 
letter is ‘a bow sent at a venture,’ - to see if you would like 
to help a literary sister who is being gravely wronged by her 
only near relative, an abnormal woman, who has hated her 
for years without any cause. To be very direct — I need ,^10 
for one year at 5 per cent. -to be repaid ,^10, los. od. 
I need it at once^ very urgently — to pay arrears of furnished 
digs — ;{^3, 13s. od. - Milk Bill i6s. 8 d.. Grocery Bill los. 6d. 
and coal is. 8d. - then to leave Bolton (the black town of 
mills which fogs incessantly) and go for a change to Black- 
pool: then to go up to Town to put my legal business into a 
London solicitor’s hands. I will sign a Promissory Note for 
;^io, I os. od., to repay a year hence. I am cultured and 
and highly educated and well-born. I was trained to teach 
on the higher schools and I hold high testimonials for teach- 
ing. But I overworked and at last became consumptive, and 
had tuberculosis of both lungs. It was taken early and I am 
relatively cured. But my teaching career is broken, and I do 
so love teaching. In consequence of this I have a monthly 
pension from a Philanthropic Society of i is. 8d. But it 
is so tiny, I cannot possibly live on it, squeeze as I may. 
But an inheritance of over ,^1000 is mine, which is being 
wrongly withheld from me by the rogue of a solicitor in 
whose hands it is. I had one brother and one sister. The 
brother had saved money, and insured himself in many 
ways against his old age. The sister was well married to a 
man in good position; heartless, and hardened with ker 
worldly life, and abnormally unnatural. She was expelled 
from two schools. She contracted an insane hatred of me, 
her little sister, and being full of cupidity, has tried to rob 
me of the little I have. My brother intended me to be his 


heir and inherit all his money. He wrote her this. But he 
was not a good brother and I did not visit him. He was a 
widower without olFspring. Then he died suddenly in 1926, 
Xmas. She got to his house and wired me the death. After- 
wards she wrote a few lines but never told me the date of the 
funeral and has hid everything about his affairs from me — his 
declared heir! She declared there was no Will to be found, 
and when I arrived in the Midlands from Yorkshire and 
got to his Vicarage she, with her woman friend, had locked me 
out of the house, to -prevent my search for the Will! Upon 
advice I issued a Caveat and they at once violated the Caveat, 
and began to arrange for the sale of furniture! I heard of it 
by chance and stopped the sale. Then I was taken ill with 
my lungs in Derbyshire, whither I had returned after en- 
gaging a lawyer to safeguard my interests on the spot. 
They then corrupted my solicitor, who let me down badly, 
and I was ill in Derby. They warned the Caveat, and I could 
not enter an appearance, so it became abortive. Then my 
sister got herself made sole Administratrix. I had intended 
to apply to be joint Administratrix. Then began a series of 
fraudulent acts and maladministration. Her solicitor is a 
rogue and he is trying to force me to ^approve' his un- 
satisfactory accounts by withholding my share xmtil I sign 
an undertaking not to proceed against them afterwards. One 
item in accounts is falsified which I can prove, and other 
gross acts of fraud can be proved. Foul play has been pursued 
throughout, and they are now shadowing me everywhere by 
hired agents who find out the solicitors I employ and buy 
them off, or otherwise prevent their acting against them for 
me. It is the grossest case imaginable. I hold all my docu- 
ments and can prove everything. I have a clear and strong 
case. But I need a London solicitor — away from the North 

Ch. n 


where my sister lives in Northumberland - and I will not 
fiinir my moral principle to accept, not my lawful Half-Share, 
but what they choose to offer me, namely ;^9i9, 13s. 3d. and 
18 months’ interest. I want the Court to take over the 
administration. I have applied to the solicitor for an advance 
upon my share and he refuses again in order to compel me to 
sign this infamous agreement. I had ,^50 in advance in 
1926 which is shown in accounts. I just need this 
now so as to pay up here and get to Blackpool - for I 
have been ill again with my lungs, and I badly need a 

Will you help a stranger with this not very big loan, 
and on interest? I would bring all the accounts and 
papers to show you when I come to town. And if I have 
found a friend in you, I shall indeed thank God. You can 
trust me. I am worthy, though I can give no references, 
because the people are dead. But I think you do not like 
being ‘bullied’ with such things. I am middle-aged, but 
a child in heart - original - and just myself, and look 
rather ridiculously young, without any artifice or make- 

But apart from the loan, I need a friend. The family used 
to sneer at me that I ‘never made friends for what I could 
get out of them.’ Truly I never did. I like rather to help 
others myself. I should like to help you if I could in any 
way. I just love to serve. My life has been lonely, and bom 
parents are dead, and I don’t make friends lightly. So that 
is all. But I won’t finish without telling you that I love the 
Master, the Lord Jesus Christ, as you love Him, and 
trust Him in all this darkness. I always like to bring His 
Name in - and so good night — I would be thankful if 
you will write to me in a roistered letter. Some of my 

Ch. II 



letters have gone astray, I fear I do not trust the woman in 
these lodgings, and my letters are going to a shop to be 
called for. 

I am, dear Sir, 

Yours very truly 

***** (Miss). 

P.S. — Do you think you could get a letter to me by 
Saturday? I do so love your poems. 

I put this in here because it is not a letter to answer, nor 
yet somehow a letter to throw away. The style reminds me 
of one of my Irish female cousins. And that again reminds 
me of the ancient Irish triad — ‘Three ugly sisters; Chatter, 
Poverty, and Chastity.’ 


I WENT to six preparatory schools. The first was a dame’s 
school at Wimbledon. I went there at the age of six. My 
father, as an educational expert, did not let me stay here 
long. He found me crying one day at the difficulty of the 
twenty-three-times table, and there was a Question and 
Answer History Book that we used which began: 

Question: Why were the Britons so called.? 

Answer: Because they painted themselves blue. 

My father said it was out of date. Also I was made to 
do mental arithmetic to a metronome. I once wet myself for 
nervousness at this torture. So I went to the lowest class of 
King’s College School, Wimbledon. I was just seven years 
old, the yoimgest boy there, and they went up to nineteen. 
I was taken away after a couple of terms because I was found 
to be using naughty words. I was glad to leave that school 
because I did not understand a word of the lessons. I had 
started Latin and I did not know what Latin was or meant; 
its declensions and conjugations were pure incantations to 
me. For that matter so were the strings of naughty words. 
And I was oppressed by the huge hall, the enormous boys, 
the frightening rowdiness of the corridors, and compulsory 
Rugby football of which nobody told me the rules. I went 
from there to another preparatory school of the ordinary 
type, also at Wimbledon, where I stayed for about three 
years. Here I began playing games seriously, was quarrel- 
some, boastful, and talkative, won prizes, and collected 
things. The only difference between me and the other boys 
was that I collected coins instead of stamps. The value of 
coins seemed less fictitious to me than stamp values. My 
first training as a gentleman was here. I was only once 


Ch. Ill 


caned, for forgetting to bring my gymnastic shoes to school, 
and then I was only given two strokes on the hand with the 
cane. Yet even now the memory makes me hot with fury. 
The principal outrage was that it was on the hand. My 
hands have a great importance for me and are unusually 
sensitive. I live a lot in them; my visual imagery is defective 
and so I memorize largely by sense of touch. 

I seem to have left out a school. It was in North Wales, 
right away in the hills behind Llanbedr. It was the first 
time I had been away from home. I went there just for a term, 
for my health. Here I had my first beating. The headmaster 
was a parson, and he caned me on the bottom because 
I learned the wrong collect one Sunday by mistake. This 
was the first time that I had come upon forcible training in 
religion. (At my dame’s school we learned collects too, but 
were not punished for mistakes; we competed for prizes - 
ornamental texts to take home and hang over our beds.) 
There was a boy at this school called Ronny, and he was the 
greatest thing that I had ever met. He had a house at the 
top of a pine tree that nobody else could climb, and a huge 
knife, made from the top of a scythe that he had stolen; and 
he killed pigeons with a catapult and cooked them up in the 
tree. He was very kind to me; he went into the Navy 
afterwards and deserted on his first voyage and was never 
heard of again. He used to steal rides on cows and horses 
that he found in the fields. And I found a book that had 
the ballads of ‘Chevy Chace’ and ‘Sir Andrew Barton’ in it; 
they were the first two real poems that I remember reading. 
I saw how good they were. But, on the other hand, there 
was an open-air swimming bath where all the boys bathed 
naked, and I was overcome by horror at the sight. There 
was one boy there of nineteen with red hair, real bad, Irish, 


red hair all over his body. I had not known that hair grew on 
bodies. And the headmaster had a little daughter with a 
little girl friend, and I was in a sweat of terror whenever 
I met them; because, having no brothers, they once tried 
to find out about male anatomy from me by exploring down 
my shirt-neck when we were digging up pig-nuts in the 

Another frightening experience of this part of my life 
was when I had once to wait in the school cloakroom for 
my sisters, who went to the Wimbledon High School. We 
were going on to be photographed together. I waited about a 
quarter of an hour in the corner of the cloakroom. I suppose 
I was about ten years old, and hundreds and hundreds of 
girls went to and fro, and they all looked at me and giggled 
and whispered things to each other. I knew they hated me, 
because I was a boy sitting in the cloakroom of a girls’ 
school, and when my sisters arrived they looked ashamed of 
me and quite different from the sisters I knew at home. I 
realized that I had blundered into a secret world, and for 
months and even years afterwards my worst nightmares 
were of this girls’ school, which was always filled with 
coloured toy balloons. ‘Very Freudian,’ as one says now. 
My normal impulses were set back for years by these two 
experiences. When I was about seventeen we spent our 
Christmas holidays in Brussels. An Irish girl staying at the 
same pension made love to me in a way that I see now was 
really very sweet. I was so frightened I could have killed her. 

In English preparatory and public schools romance is 
necessarily homo-sexual. The opposite sex is despised and 
hated, treated as something obscene. Many boys never 
recover from this perversion. I only recovered by a shock 
at the age of twenty-one. For every one born homo-sexual 

Ch. HI 



there are at least ten permanent pseudo-homosexuals made 
by the public school system. And nine of these ten are as 
honourably chaste and sentimental as I was. 

I left that day-school at Wimbledon because my father 
decided that the standard of work was not good enough to 
enable me to win a scholarship at a public school. He sent 
me to another preparatory school in the Midlands; because 
the headmaster’s wife was a sister of an old literary friend of 
his. It proved later that these were inadequate grounds. 
It was a queer place and I did not like it. There was a secret 
about the headmaster which a few of the elder boys shared. 
It was somehow sinister, but I never exactly knew what it 
was. All I knew was that he came weeping into the class- 
room one day beating his head with his fists and groaning: 
‘Would to God I hadn’t done it! Would to God I hadn’t 
done it!’ I was taken away suddenly a few days later, which 
was the end of the school year. The headmaster was said to 
be ill. I found out later that he had been given twenty-four 
hours to leave the country. He was succeeded by the 
second master, a good man, who had taught me how to write 
English by eliminating all phrases that could be done without, 
and using verbs and nouns instead of adjectives and adverbs 
wherever possible. And where to start new paragraphs, and 
the difference between O and Oh. He was a very heavy 
man. He used to stand at his desk and lean on his thumbs 
until they bent at right angles. (The school he took over 
was now only half-strength because of the scandal. A fort- 
night later he fell out of a train on to his head and that was 
the end of him; but the school is apparently going on still; 
I am occasionally asked to subscribe to Old Boys’ funds for 
chapel windows and miniature rifle ranges and so on.) I first 
learned rugger here. What surprised me most at this school 


was when a boy of about twelve, whose father and mother 
were in India, was told by cable that they had both suddenly 
died of cholera. We all watched him sympathetically for 
weeks after, expecting him to die of grief or turn black in 
the face, or do something to match the occasion. Yet he 
seemed entirely unmoved, and since nobody dared discuss 
the tragedy with him he seemed to forget what had happened; 
he played about and ragged as he had done before. We found 
that rather monstrous. But he could not have been expected 
to behave otherwise. He had not seen his parents for two 
years. And preparatory schoolboys live in a world com- 
pletely dissociated from home life. They have a different 
vocabulary, different moral system, different voice, and 
though on their return to school from the holidays the 
change over from home-self to school-self is almost instant- 
aneous, the reverse process takes a fortnight at least. A 
preparatory-school boy, when off his guard, will often call 
his mother, ‘Please, matron,’ and will always address any 
man relation or friend of the family as ‘Sir,’ as though he 
were a master. I used to do it. School life becomes the 
reality and home life the illusion. In England parents of 
the governing classes virtually finish all intimate life with 
their children from about the age of eight, and any attempt on 
their part to insinuate home feeling into school life is resented. 

Next I went to a typically good school in Sussex. The 
headmaster was chary of admitting me at my age, particu- 
larly from a school with such a bad recent history. Family 
literary connections did the trick, however, and the head- 
master saw that I was advanced enough to win a scholarship 
and do the school credit. The depressed state I had been 
in since the last school ended the moment I arrived. My 
younger brother followed me to this school, being taken 

Ch. lu 



away from the day-school at Wimbledon, and, later, my 
youngest brother went there straight from home. How 
good and typical the school was can best be seen in the case 
of my youngest brother, who is a typical good, normal 
person, and, as I say, went straight from home to the school 
without other school influences. He spent five or six years 
there — and played in the elevens - and got the top scholar- 
ship at a public school — and became head boy with athletic 
distinctions — and won a scholarship at Oxford and further 
athletic distinctions — and a degree — and then what did he 
do.? Because he was such a typically good normal person 
he naturally went back as a master to his old typically good 
preparatory school, and now that he has been there some 
years and wants a change he is applying for a mastership at 
his old public school and, if he gets it and becomes a house- 
master after a few years, he will at last, I suppose, become a 
headmaster and eventually take the next step and become the 
head of his old college at Oxford. That is the sort of 
typically good preparatory school it was. At this school I 
learned to keep a straight bat at cricket and to have a high 
moral sense, and my fifth different pronunciation of Latin, 
and my fifth or sixth different way of doing simple arith- 
metic. But I did not mind, and they put me in the top class 
and I got a scholarship — ^in fact I got the first scholarship 
of the year. At Charterhouse. And why Charterhouse? 
Because of and irj}u. Charterhouse was the only 

public school whose scholarship examination did not contain 
a Greek grammar paper and, though I was good enough at 
Greek Unseen and Greek Composition, I could not conju- 
gate Urrqiii and a]fu conventionally. If it had not been 
for these two verbs I would almost certainly have gone to 
the very different atmosphere of Winchester. 


My mother took us abroad to stay at my grandfather’s house 
in Germany five times between my second and twelfth year. 
After this he died and we never went again. He had a big 
old manor-house ten miles from Munich; it was called 
‘Laufeorn,’ which means ‘Begone, care!’ Our summers 
there were easily the best things of my early childhood. 
Pine forests and hot sun, red deer and black and red 
squirrels, acres of blue-berries and wild strawberries; nine 
or ten different kinds of edible mushrooms that we went 
into the forest to pick, and unfamiliar flowers in the fields - 
Munich is high up and there are outcrops of Alpine flowers 
here and there -and the farm with all the usual animals 
except sheep, and drives through the countryside in a brake 
behind my grandfather’s greys. And bathing in the Iser 
under a waterfall; the Iser was bright green and said to be 
the fastest river in Europe. We used to visit the uncles who 
had a peacock farm a few miles away, and a granduncle, 
Johannes von Ranke, the ethnologist, who lived on the lake- 
shore of Tegensee, where every one had buttercup-blonde 
hair. And occasionally my Aunt Agnes, Baronin von 
Aufsess, who lived some hours away by train, high up in 
the Bavarian Alps, in Aufsess Castle. 

This castle was a wonder; it was built in the ninth century 
and had been in the von Aufsess family ever since. The 
original building was a keep with only a ladder-entrance 
half-way up. A medieval castle had been added. Aufsess 
was so remote that it had never been sacked, and its treasures 
of plate and armour were amazing. Each baron added to 
the treasure and none took away. My Uncle Siegfried was 
the heir. He showed us children the chapel with its walls hung 





with enamelled shields of each Aufsess baron, impaled with 
the arms of the family into which he married. These 
families were always noble. He pointed to a stone in the 
floor which pulled up by a ring and said: ‘That is the family 
vault where all we Aufsesses go when we die. I’ll go there 
one day,’ He scowled comically, (But he was killed in the 
war as an officer of the Imperial German Staff and I believe 
that they never found his body,) He had a peculiar sense of 
humour. One day we children found him on the pebbled 
garden path, eating the pebbles. He told us to go away, but, 
of course, we would not. We sat down and tried to eat 
pebbles too. He told us very seriously that eating pebbles 
was not a thing for children to do; we should break our teeth. 
We agreed after trying one or two; so to get rid of us he 
found us each a pebble which looked just like all the other 
pebbles, but which crushed easily and had a chocolate centre. 
But this was only on condition that we went away and left 
him to his picking and crunching. When we came back 
later in the day we searched and searched, but only found 
the ordinary hard pebbles. He never once let us down in a 

Among the treasures of the castle were a baby’s lace cap 
that had taken two years to make, and a wine glass that my 
uncle’s old father, the reigning baron, had found in the 
Franco-Prussian War standing upright in the middle of the 
square in an entirely ruined village. For dinner when we 
were there we had enormous trout. My father, who was a 
fisherman, was astonished and asked the baron how they 
came to be that size. The baron said that there was an 
underground river that welled up close to the castle and the 
fish that came out with it were quite white from the dark- 
ness, of enormous size and stone-blind. They also gave us 


jam, made of wild roseberries, which they called ‘Hetchi- 

The most remarkable thing in the castle was an iron chest 
in a small thick-walled white-washed room at the top of the 
keep. It was a huge chest, twice the size of the door, and 
had obviously been made inside the room - there were no 
windows but arrow-slits. It had two keys. I could not say 
what its date was, but I recall it as twelfth or thirteenth 
century work. There was a tradition that it should never 
be opened unless the castle were in the most extreme danger. 
One key was held by the baron and one by the steward; I 
believe the stewardship was a hereditary office. The chest 
could only be opened by using both keys, and nobody knew 
what was inside; it was even considered unlucky to speculate. 
Of course we speculated. It might be gold, more likely it 
was a store of corn in sealed jars, or even some sort of 
weapon -Greek fire, perhaps. From what I know of the 
Aufsesses and their stewards, it is inconceivable that the 
chest ever got the better of their curiosity. The castle ghost 
was that of a former baron known as the Red Knight; his 
terrifying portrait hung half-way up the turret staircase 
that took us to our bedrooms. We slept for the first time in 
our lives on feather beds. 

Laufzorn, which my grandfather had bought and restored 
from a ruinous state, had nothing to compare with the 
Aufsess tradition, though it had for a time been a shooting- 
lodge of the kings of Bavaria. Still, there were two ghosts 
that went with the place; the farm labourers used to see them 
frequently. One of them was a carriage which drove furi- 
ously along without any horses, and before the days of 
motor-cars this was frightening enough. And the banqueting 
hall was magnificent. I have not been there since I was a 


child, so it is impossible for me to recall its true dimensions. 
It seemed as big as a cathedral, and its bare boards were 
only furnished at the four corners with little islands of tables 
and chairs. The windows were of stained glass, and there 
were swallows’ nests all along where the walls joined the 
ceiling. Roundels of coloured light from the stained-glass 
windows, the many-tined stags’ heads (that my grandfather 
had shot) mounted on the wall, swallow-droppings on the 
floor under the nests and a little harmonium in one corner 
where we sang German songs; these concentrate my memories 
of Laufzorn. It was in three divisions. The bottom storey 
was part of the farm. A carriage-drive went right through it, 
and there was also a wide, covered courtyard — originally 
these had served for driving the cattle to safety in times of 
baronial feud. On one side of the drive was the estate 
steward’s quarters, on the other the farm servants’ inn and 
kitchen. In the middle storey lived my grandfather and his 
family. The top storey was a store-place for corn and apples 
and other farm produce. It was up here that my cousin 
Wilhelm, who was killed in an air-fight during the war, 
used to lie for hours shooting mice with an air-gun. (I 
learned that he was shot down by a schoolfellow of mine.) 

The best part of Germany was the food. There was a 
richness and spiciness about it that we missed in England. 
We liked the rye bread, the black honey (black, I believe, 
because it came from the combs of the previous year), the 
huge ice-cream puddings made with fresh raspberry juice, 
and the venison, and the honey cakes, and the pastries, and 
particularly the sauces made with different sorts of mush- 
rooms. And the bretzels, and carrots cooked with sugar, and 
summer pudding of cranberries and blue-berries. There 
was an orchard close to the house, and we could eat as many 

Ch. IV 


apples, pears", and greengages as we liked. There were rows 
of blackcurrant and gooseberry bushes. The estate, in spite 
of the recency of my grandfather’s tenure, and his liberalism 
and experiments in modern agricultural methods, was still 
feudalistic. The farm servants, because they talked a dialect 
that we could not understand and because they were Catholics 
and poor and sweaty and savage-looking, frightened us. 
They were lower even than the servants at home; and as for 
the colony of Italians settled about half a mile from the 
house, imported from Italy by my grandfather as cheap 
labour for his brick-making factory, we associated them in 
our minds with the ‘gypsies in the wood’ of the song. My 
grandfather took us over the factory one day; he made me 
taste a lump of Italian polenta. My mother told us after- 
wards (when a milk pudding at Wimbledon came to table 
burnt and we complained about it), ‘Those poor Italians at 
the factory used to burn their polenta on purpose sometimes 
just for a change of flavour.’ 

There were other unusual things at Laufzorn. There 
was a large pond full of carp; it was netted every three or 
four years. The last year we were there we were allowed 
to help. It was good to see the net pulled closer and closer 
to the shallow landing corner. It bulged with wriggling 
carp, and a big pike was threshing about among them. I was 
allowed to wade in to help, and came out with six leeches, 
like black rubber tubes, fastened to my legs; salt had to be 
put on them to make them leave go. I do not remember 
that it hurt much. The farm labourers were excited, and 
one of them, called The Jackal, gutted a fish with his thumbs 
and ate it raw. And there was the truck line between the 
railway station, two miles away, and the brick-yard. There 
was a fall of perhaps one in a hundred from the factory to 




the station. The Italians used to load up the' trucks with 
bricks, and a squad of them would give the trucks a hard 
push and run along the track pushing for about twenty or 
thirty yards; and then the trucks used to sail off all by 
themselves to the station. There was a big hay-barn where 
we were allowed to climb up on the rafters and jump down into 
the springy hay; we gradually increased the height of the 
jumps. It was exciting to feel our insides left behind us in 
the air. Then the cellar, not the ordinary beer cellar, but 
another that you went down into from the courtyard. It 
was quite dark there except for a little slit-window; and there 
was a heap of potatoes on the floor. To get to the light 
they had put out long white feelers — a twisted mass. In 
one corner there was a dark hole closed by a gate; it was a 
secret passage out of the house to a ruined monastery, a mile 
or two away. My uncles had once been down some way, 
but the air got bad and they had to come back. The gate 
had been put up to prevent anyone else trying it and being 

When we drove out with my grandfather he was acclaimed 
by the principal personages of every village we went through. 
At each village there was a big inn with a rumbling skitde- 
alley and always a tall Maypole banded like a barber’s pole 
with blue and white, the Bavarian national colours. The 
roads were lined with fruit trees. The idea of these unguarded 
public fruit trees astonished us. We could not understand 
why there was any fruit left on them. Even the horse- 
chestnut trees on Wimbledon Common were pelted with 
sticks and stones, long before the chestnuts were ripe and 
in deflance of an energetic common keeper. The only things 
that we could not quite get accustomed to in Bavaria were 
the wayside crucifixes with the realistic blood and wounds. 

Ch. IV 


and the enc-voto pictures, like sign-boards, of naked souls 
in purgatory, grinning with anguish in the middle of high 
red and yellow flames. We had been taught to believe in 
hell, but did not like to be reminded of it. Munich we found 
sinister - disgusting fumes of beer and cigar smoke and 
intense sounds of eating, the hotly dressed, enormously stout 
population in the trams and trains, the ferocious officials, 
the wanton crowds at the art shops and picture galleries. 
Then there was the Morgue. We were not allowed inside 
because we were children, but it was bad enough to be told 
about it. Any notable who died was taken to the Morgue 
and put in a chair, sitting in state for a day or two, and if he 
was a general he had his uniform on, or if she was a burgo- 
master’s wife she had on her silks and jewels; and strings 
were tied to their fingers and the slightest movement of 
one of the strings would ring a great bell, in case there was 
any life left in the corpse after all. I have never verified the 
truth of all this, but it was true enough to me. When my 
grandfather died about a year after our last visit I thought 
of him there in the Morgue with his bushy white hair, and 
his morning coat and striped trousers and his decorations 
and his stethoscope, and perhaps, I thought, his silk hat, 
gloves, and cane on a table beside the chair. Trying, in a 
nightmare, to be alive but knowing himself dead. 

The headmaster who caned me on the hand was a lover 
of German culture, and impressed this feeling on the school, 
so that it was to my credit that I could speak German and 
had been to Germany. At my other preparatory schools this 
German connection was regarded as something at least 
excusable and perhaps even interesting. It was not until 
I went to Charterhouse that I was made to see it as a social 
offence. My history from the age of fourteen, when I went 


to Charterhouse, to just before the end of the war, when 
I began to realize things better, was a forced rejection of the 
German in me. In all that first period I used to insist in- 
dignantly that I was Irish and deliberately cultivate Irish 
sentiment. I took my self-protective stand on the technical 
point that it was the father’s nationality that counted. Of 
course I also accepted the whole patriarchal system of 
things. It is difficult now to recall how completely I believed 
in the natural supremacy of male over female. I never heard 
it even questioned until I met Nancy, when I was about 
twenty-two, towards the end of the war. The surprising 
sense of ease that I got from her frank statement of equality 
between the sexes was among my chief reasons for liking 
her. My mother had always taken the ‘love, honour, and 
obey’ contract literally; my sisters were brought up to wish 
themselves boys, to be shocked at the idea of woman’s 
suffrage, and not to expect as expensive an education as their 
brothers. The final decision in any domestic matter always 
rested with my father. My mother would say: ‘If two ride to- 
gether one must ride behind.’ Nancy’s crude summary, ‘God 
is a man, so it must be all rot,’ took a load off my shoulders. 

We children did not talk German well; our genders and 
minor parts of speech were shaky, and we never learned to 
read Gothic characters or script. Yet we had the feel of 
German so strongly that I would say now that I know 
German far better than French, though I can read French 
almost as fast as I can read English and can only read a 
German book very painfully and slowly, with the help of a 
dictionary. I use different parts of my mind for the two 
languages. French is a surface acquirement and I could 
forget it quite easily if I had no reason to use it every now 
and then. 


I SPENT a good part of my early life at Wimbledon. My 
mother and father did not get rid of the house, a big one 
near the Common, until some time about the end of the war; 
yet of all the time I spent in it I can recall little or nothing 
of significance. But after the age of eleven or twelve I was 
away at school, and in the spring and summer holidays we 
were all in the country, so that I was only at Wimbledon in 
the Christmas holidays and for a day or two at the beginning 
and end of the other holidays. London was only a half-hour 
away and yet we seldom went there. My mother and father 
never took us to the theatre, not even to pantomimes, and 
until the middle of the war I had only been to the theatre 
twice in my life, and then only to children’s plays, taken by 
an aunt. My mother wished to bring us up to be serious and 
to benefit humanity in some practical way. She allowed us 
no hint of its dirtiness and intrigue and lustfulness, believing 
that innocence was the surest protection against them. Our 
reading was carefully censored by her. I was destined to be 
‘if not a great man at least a good man.’ Our treats were 
educational or aesthetic, to Kew Gardens, Hampton Court, 
the Zoo, the British Museum, or the Natural History 
Museum. I remember my mother, in the treasure room at 
the British Museum, telling us with shining eyes that all 
these treasures were ours. We looked at her astonished. She 
said; ‘Yes, they belong to us as members of the public. We 
can look at them, admire them, and study them for as long 
as we like. If we had them back at home we couldn’t do 

We read more books than most children do. There must 
have been four or five thousand books in the house. They 



consisted of an old-fashioned scholar’s library bequeathed 
to my father by my namesake, whom I have mentioned as 
a friend of Wordsworth, but who had a far more tender 
friendship with Felicia Hemans; to this was added my 
father’s own collection of books, mostly poetry, with a par- 
ticular cupboard for Anglo-Irish literature; devotional works 
contributed by my mother; educational books sent to my 
father by their publishers in the hope that he would recom- 
mend them for use in Government schools; and novels and 
adventure books brought into the house by my elder brothers 
and sisters. 

My mother used to tell us stories about inventors and 
doctors who gave their lives for the suffering, and poor boys 
who struggled to the top of the tree, and saintly men who 
made examples of themselves. There was also the parable 
of the king who had a very beautiful garden which he threw 
open to the public. Two students entered; and one, who was 
the person of whom my mother spoke with a slight sneer in 
her voice, noticed occasional weeds even in the tulip-beds, 
but the other, and there she brightened up, found beautiful 
flowers growing even on rubbish heaps. She kept off the 
subject of war as much as possible; she always had difficulty 
in explaining to us how it was that God permitted wars. 
The Boer War clouded my early childhood; Philip, my 
eldest brother (who also called himself a Fenian), was a pro- 
Boer and there was great tension at the breakfast-table 
between him and my father, whose political views were 
always orthodox. 

The sale of the Wimbledon house solved a good many 
problems; it was getting too full. My mother hated throwing 
away anything that could possibly, in the most remote 
contingency, be of any service to anyone. The medicine 


cupboard was perhaps the most significant corner of the 
house. Nobody could say that it was untidy, exactly; all 
the bottles had stoppers, but they were so crowded together 
that it was impossible for anybody except my mother, who 
had a long memory, to know what was at the back. Every 
few years, no doubt, she went through this cupboard. If 
there was any doubtful bottle she would tentatively re-label 
it. ‘This must be Alfred’s old bunion salve,’ and another, 
‘Strychnine - query.?’ Even special medicines prescribed 
for scarlet-fever or whooping-cough were kept, in case of 
re-infection. She was always an energetic labeller. She 
wrote in one of my school prizes: ‘Robert Ranke Graves 
won this book as a prize for being first in his class in the 
term’s work and second in examinations. He also won a 
special prize for divinity, though the youngest boy in the 
class. Written by his afiFectionate mother, Amy Graves. 
Summer, 1908.’ Home-made jam used always to arrive at 
table well labelled; one small pot read: ‘Gooseberry, lemon and 
rhubarb - a little shop gooseberry added — Nelly re-boiled.’ 

In a recent book, Mrs. Fisher I moralized on three sayings 
and a favourite story of my mother’s. I ascribed them there 
for the argument’s sake to my Danish grandmother. They 
were these: 

‘Children, I command you, as your mother, never to 
swing objects around in your hands. The King of Hanover 
put out his eye by swinging a bead purse.’ 

‘Children, I command you, as your mother, to be careful 
when you carry your candles up to bed. The candle is a 
little cup of grease.’ 

‘There was a man once, a Frenchman, who died of grief 
because he could never become a mother.’ 


And the story told in candlelight: 

‘There was once a peasant family living in Schleswig- 
Holstein, where they all have crooked mouths, and one night 
they wished to blow out the candle. The father’s mouth 
was twisted to the left, so! and he tried to blow out the 
candle, so! but he was too proud to stand anywhere but 
directly before the candle, and he puffed and he puffed, but 
could not blow the candle out. And then the mother tried, 
but her mouth was twisted to the right, so! and she tried to 
blow, so! and she was too proud to stand anywhere but 
directly before the candle, and she puffed and puffed, but 
could not blow the candle out. Then there was the brother 
with mouth twisted outward, so! and the sister with the mouth 
twisted downward, so! and they tried each in their turn, so! 
and so! and the idiot baby with his mouth twisted in an 
eternal grin tried, so! And at last the maid, a beautiful girl 
from Copenhagen with a perfectly formed mouth, put it 
out with her shoe. So! Flap!’ 

These quotations make it clear how much more I owe, as a 
writer, to my mother than to my father. She also taught 
me to ‘speak the truth and shame the devil!’ Her favourite 
biblical exhortation was ‘My son, whatever thy hand findeth 
to do, do it with all thy might.’ 

I always felt that Wimbledon was a wrong place, neither 
town nor country. It was at its worst on Wednesdays, my 
mother’s ‘At Home’ day. Tea was in the drawing-room. We 
were called down in our Sunday clothes to eat cakes, be kissed, 
and be polite. My sisters were made to recite. Around 
Christmas, celebrated in the German style, came a dozen or 
so children’s parties; we used to make ourselves sick with 

Ct. V 


excitement. I do not like thinking of Wimbledon. Every 
spring and summer after my third year, unless we happened 
to go to Germany, or to France as we did once, we went 
to Harlech in North Wales. My mother had built a house 

In the days before motor traffic began around the North 
Welsh coast, Harlech was a very quiet place and little known, 
even as a golf centre. It was in three parts. First, the village 
itself, five hundred feet up on a steep range of hills; it had 
granite houses with slate roofs and ugly windows and gables, 
chapels of seven or eight different denominations, enough 
shops to make it the shopping centre of the smaller 
villages around, and the castle, a favourite playground of 
ours. Then there was the Morfa, a flat plain from which 
the sea had receded; part of this was the golf links, but to 
the north was a stretch of wild country which we used to 
visit in the spring in search of plovers’ eggs. The sea was 
beyond the links — good hard sand stretching for miles, safe 
bathing, and sandhills for hide and seek. 

The third part of Harlech, which became the most im- 
portant to us, was never visited by golfers or the few other 
sununer visitors or by the village people themselves; this 
was the desolate rocky hill-country at the back of the village. 
As we grew older we spent more and more of our time up 
there and less and less on the beach and the links, which 
were the most obvious attractions of the place. There were 
occasional farms, or rather crofts, in these hills, but one 
could easily walk fifteen or twenty miles without crossing a 
road or passing close to a farm. Originally we went up there 
with some practical excuse. For the blue-berries on the 
hills near Maesygarnedd; or for the cranberries at Gwla- 
wllyn; or to find bits of Roman hypocaust tiling (with the 


potter’s thumb-marks still on them) in the ruined Roman 
villas by Castell Tomenymur; or for globe-flowers in the 
upper Artro; or to catch a sight of the wild goats that lived 
at the back of Rhinog Fawr, the biggest of the hills of the 
next range; or to get raspberries from the thickets near 
Cwmbychan Lake; or to find white heather on a hill that we 
did not know the name of away to the north of the Roman 
Steps. But after a time we walked about those hills simply 
because they were good to walk about on. They had a penny 
plain quality about them that was even better that the two- 
pence coloured quality of the Bavarian Alps. My best 
friend at the time was my sister Rosaleen, who was one 
year older than myself. 

I suppose what I liked about this country (and I know no 
country like it) was its independence of formal nature. 
The passage of the seasons was hardly noticed there; the 
wind always seemed to be blowing and the grass always 
seemed to be withered and the small streams were always 
cold and clear, running over black stones. Sheep were the 
only animals about, but they were not nature, except in the 
lambing season; they were too close to the granite boulders 
covered with grey lichen that lay about everywhere. There 
were few trees except a few nut bushes, rowans, stunted oaks 
and thorn bushes in the valleys. The winters were always 
mild, so that last year’s bracken and last year’s heather lasted 
in a faded way through to the next spring. There were 
almost no birds except an occasional buzzard and curlews 
crying in the distance; and wherever we went we felt that 
the rocky skeleton of the hill was only an inch or two under 
the turf. Once, when I came home on leave from the war, 
I spent about a week of my ten days walking about on 
these hills to restore my sanity. I tried to do the same after 



I was wounded, but by that time the immediate horror of 
death was too strong for the indifference of the hills to 
relieve it. 

I am glad that it was Wales and not Ireland. We never 
went to Ireland, except once when I was an infant in arms. 
We had no Welsh blood in us and did not like the Harlech 
villagers much. We had no temptation to learn Welsh or 
td pretend ourselves Welsh. We knew that country as a 
quite ungeographical region; any stray sheep-farmers that 
we met who belonged to the place we resented somehow as 
intruders on our privacy. Clarissa, Rosaleen and I were once 
out on the remotest hills and had not seen a soul all day. At 
last we came to a waterfall and two trout lying on the bank 
beside it; ten yards away was the fisherman. He was dis- 
entangling his line from a thorn-bush and had not seen us. 
So we crept up quietly to the fish and put a sprig of white 
bell-heather (which we had found that afternoon) in the 
mouth of each. We hurried back to cover, and I said; 
‘Shall we watch?’ but Clarissa said: ‘No, don’t spoil it.’ So 
we came home and never spoke of it again even to each other: 
and never knew the sequel. ... If it had been Ireland we 
would have self-consciously learned Irish and the local 
legends. Instead we came to know the country more purely, 
as a place whose history was too old for local legends; when 
we were up walking there we made our own. We decided 
who was buried under the Standing Stone and who had 
lived in the ruined round-hut encampment and in the 
caves of the valley where the big rowans were. On our visits 
to Germany I had felt a sense of home in my blood in a 
natural human way, but on the hills behind Harlech I found 
a personal harmony independent of history or geography. 
The first poem I wrote as myself concerned that hill-country. 


(The first poem I wrote as a Graves was a free translation 
of a satire by Catullus). 

My father was always too busy and absent-minded to 
worry much about us children; my mother did worry. Yet 
she allowed us to go off immediately after breakfast into the 
hills and did not complain much when we came back long 
after supper-time. Though she had a terror of heights her- 
self she never restrained us from climbing about in dangerous 
places; so we never got hurt. I had a bad head for heights 
and trained myself deliberately and painfully to overcome it. 
We used to go climbing in the turrets and towers of Harlech 
Castle. I have worked hard on myself in defining and dis- 
persing terrors. The simple fear of heights was the most 
obvious to overcome. There was a quarry-face in the garden 
of our Harlech house. It provided one or two easy climbs, 
but gradually I invented more and more difficult ones for 
myself. After each new success I had to lie down, shaking 
with nervousness, in the safe meadow grass at the top. Once 
I lost my foothold on a ledge and should have been killed; 
but it seemed as though I improvised a foothold in the air 
and kicked myself up to safety from it. When I examined 
the place afterwards it was almost as if the Devil had given 
me what he had offered Christ in the Temptation, the freedom 
to cast myself down from the rock and be restored to safety 
by the angels. Yet such events are not uncommon in 
mountain climbing. George Mallory, for instance, did an 
inexplicable climb on Snowdon once. He had left his pipe 
on a ledge half-way down one of the precipices and scrambled 
back by a short cut to retrieve it, then up again by the same 
way. No one saw just how he did the climb, but when they 
came to examine it the next day for official record, they 
found that it was an impossible overhang nearly all the way. 



The rule of the Climbers’ Club was that climbs should not 
be called after their inventors, but after natural features. 
An exception was made in this case; the climb was recorded 
something like this: ‘Mallorf s Pipe, a variation on Route 2; 
see adjoining map. This climb is totally impossible. It 
has been performed once, in failing light, by Mr. G. H. L. 


About Charterhouse. Let me begin by recalling my feelings 
on the day that I left, about a week before the outbreak of 
war. I discussed them with a friend who felt much as I 
did. First we said that there were perhaps even more typical 
public schools than Charterhouse at the time, but that this 
was difficult to believe. Next, that there was no possible 
remedy, because tradition was so strong that if one wished 
to break it one would have to dismiss the whole school and 
staff and start all over again. But that even this would not be 
enough, for the school buildings were so impregnated with 
what was called the public school spirit, but what we felt 
as fundamental badness, that they would have to be de- 
molished and the school rebuilt elsewhere and its name 
changed. Next, that our only regret at leaving the place 
was that for the last year we had been in a position as members 
of Sixth Form to do more or less what we pleased. Now we 
were both going on to St. John’s College, Oxford, which 
seemed by reputation to be merely a more boisterous repeti- 
tion of Charterhouse. We would be freshmen there, and 
would naturally refuse to be hearty and public school-ish, 
and there would be all the stupidity of having our rooms 
raided and being forced to lose our temper and hurt some- 
body and be hurt ourselves. And there would be no peace 
probably until we got into our third year, when we would 
be back again in the same sort of position as now, and in 
the same sort of position as in our last year at our preparatory 
school. ‘In 1917,’ said Nevill, ‘the official seal will be out 
on all this dreariness. We’ll get our degrees, and then we’ll 
have to start as new boys again in some dreary profession. 
My God,’ he said, turning to me suddenly, ‘I can’t stand 



the idea of it. I must put something in between me and 
Oxford. I must at least go abroad for the whole vacation.’ 
I did not feel that three months was long enough. I had a 
vague intention of running away to sea. ‘Do you realize,’ he 
said to me, ‘that we have spent fourteen years of our life 
principally at Latin and Greek, not even competently taught, 
and that we are going to start another three years of the same 
thing?’ But, when we had said our very worst of Charter- 
house, I said to him or he said to me, I forget which: ‘Of 
course, the trouble is that in the school at any given time 
there are always at least two really decent masters among 
the forty or fifty, and ten really decent fellows among the 
the five or six hundred. We will remember them, and have 
Lot’s feeling about not damning Sodom for the sake of ten 
just persons. And in another twenty years’ time we’ll forget 
this conversation and think that we were mistaken, and that 
perhaps everybody, with a few criminal exceptions, was 
fairly average decent, and we’ll say “I was a young fool then, 
insisting on impossible perfection,” and we’ll send our sons 
to Charterhouse sentimentally, and they’ll go through all 
we did.’ I do not wish this to be construed as an attack on 
my old school, but merely as a record of my feelings at the 
time. No doubt I was unappreciative of the hard knocks 
and character-training that public schools are supposed to 
provide, and as a typical Old Carthusian remarked to me 
recently: ‘The whole moral tone of the school has improved 
out of all recognition since those days.’ 

As a matter of fact I did not go up to Oxford until five 
years later, in 1919, when my brother, four years younger 
than myself, was already in residence, and I did not take my 
degree until 1926, at the same time as the brother who was 
eight years younger than myself. Oxford was extraordinarily 


kind to me. I did no Latin or Greek there, though I had a 
Classical Exhibition. I did not sit for a single examination. 
I never had rooms at St. John’s, though I used to go there to 
draw a Government grant for tuition fees. I lived outside the 
University three-mile radius. For my last two undergraduate 
years I did not even have a tutor. I have a warm feeling for 
Oxford. Its rules and statutes, though apparently cast-iron, 
are ready for emergencies. In my case, at any rate, a poet 
was an emergency. 

Whenever I come to the word ‘Charterhouse’ in this story 
I find myself escaping into digressions, but I suppose that I 
must get through with it. From the moment I arrived at the 
school I suffered an oppression of spirit that I hesitate now 
to recall in its full intensity. It was something like being in 
that chilly cellar at Laufeorn among the potatoes, but being 
a potato out of a different bag from the rest. The school 
consisted of about six hundred boys. The chief interests were 
games and romantic friendships. School-work was despised 
by every one; the scholars, of whom there were about fifty in 
the school at any given time, were not concentrated in a single 
dormitory-house as at Winchester, but divided among ten. 
They were known as ‘pro’s,’ and unless they were good at 
games and willing to pretend that they hated work as much as 
or more than the non-scholars, and ready whenever called 
on to help these with their work, they usually had a bad time. 
I was a scholar and really liked work, and I was surprised 
and disappointed at the apathy of the class-rooms. My first 
term I was left alone more or less, it being a school con- 
vention that new boys should be neither encouraged nor 
baited. The other boys seldom spoke to them except to send 
them on errands, or to inform them of breaches of school 
convention. But my second term the trouble began. There 


were a number of things that naturally made for my un- 
popularity. Besides being a scholar and not outstandingly 
good at games, I was always short of pocket-money. I could 
not conform to the social custom of treating my contempo- 
raries to food at the school shop, and because I could not 
treat them I could not accept their treating. My clothes 
were all wrong; they conformed outwardly to the school 
pattern, but they were ready-made and not of the best-quality 
cloth that the other boys all wore. Even so, I had not been 
taught how to make the best of them. Neither my mother 
nor my father had any regard for the niceties of modern dress, 
and my elder brothers were abroad by this time. The other 
boys in my house, except for five scholars, were nearly all 
the sons of business men; it was a class of whose interests 
and prejudices I knew nothing, having hitherto only met 
boys of the professional class. And I talked too much for 
their liking. A further disability was that I was as prudishly 
innocent as my mother had planned I should be. I knew 
nothing about simple sex, let alone the many refinements of 
sex constantly referred to in school conversation. My im- 
mediate reaction was one of disgust. I wanted to run away. 

The most unfortunate disability of all was that my name 
appeared on the school list as ‘R. von R. Graves.’ I had only 
known hitherto that my second name was Ranke; the ‘von,’ 
discovered on my birth certificate, was disconcerting. Car- 
thusians were secretive about their second names; if these 
were fancy ones they usually managed to conceal them. 
Ranke, without the ‘von’ I could no doubt have passed off as 
monosyllabic and English, but ‘von Ranke’ was glaring. The 
business class to which most of the boys belonged was 
strongly feeling at this time the threat and even the necessity 
of a trade war; ‘German’ meant ‘dirty German.’ It meant 

eh. VI 


‘cheap shoddy goods competing with our sterling industries,’ 
and it also meant military menace, Prussianism, sabre- 
rattling. There was another boy in my house with a German 
name, but English by birth and upbringing. He was treated 
much as I was. On the other hand a French boy in the house 
was very popular, though he was not much good at games; 
King Edward VII had done his entente work very thoroughly. 
There was also considerable anti-Jewish feeling (the business 
prejudice again) and the legend was put about that I was not 
only a German but a German-Jew. 

Of course I always maintained that I was Irish. This claim 
was resented by an Irish boy who had been in the house 
about a year and a half longer than myself. He went out of 
his way to hurt me, not only by physical acts of spite, 
like throwing ink over my school-books, hiding my games- 
clothes, setting on me suddenly from behind corners, 
pouring water over me at night, but by continually forcing 
his bawdy humour on my prudishness and inviting everybody 
to laugh at my disgust; he also built up a sort of humorous 
legend of my hypocrisy and concealed depravity. I came 
near a nervous breakdown. School morality prevented me 
from informing the house-master of my troubles. The 
house-monitors were supposed to keep order and preserve 
the moral tone of the house, but at this time they were not 
the sort to interfere in any case of bullying among the juniors. 
I tried violent resistance, but as the odds were always heavily 
against me this merely encouraged the ragging. Complete 
passive resistance would probably have been better. I only 
got accustomed to bawdy-talk in my last two years at 
Charterhouse, and it was not until I had been some time in 
the army that I got hardened to it and could reply in kind 
to insults. 



A former headmaster of Charterhouse, an innocent man, 
is reported to have said at a Headmasters’ Conference: ‘My 
boys are amorous but seldom erotic.’ Few cases of eroticism 
indeed ever came to his notice; there were not more than 
five or six big rows all the time I was at Charterhouse and 
expulsions were rare. But the house-masters knew little about 
what went on in their houses; their living quarters were 
removed from the boys’. There was a true distinction 
between ‘amorousness,’ by which the headmaster meant a 
sentimental falling in love with younger boys, and eroticism, 
which was adolescent lust. The intimacy, as the newspapers 
call it, that frequently took place was practically never 
between an elder boy and the object of his affection, for that 
would have spoilt the romantic illusion, which was hetero- 
sexually cast. It was between boys of the same age who were 
not in love, but used each other coldly as convenient sex- 
instruments. So the atmosphere was always heavy with 
romance of a very conventional early-Victorian type, yet 
complicated by cynicism and foulness. 


Half-way through my second year I wrote to my parents to 
tell them that I must leave Charterhouse, because I could not 
stand life there any longer. I told them that the house was 
making it plain that I did not belong and that it did not want 
me. I gave them details, in confidence, to make them take 
my demand seriously. They were unable to respect this 
confidence, considering that it was their religious duty to 
inform the house-master of all I had written them. They 
did not even tell me what they were doing; they contented 
themselves with visiting me and giving me assurances of 
the power of prayer and faith; telling me that I must endure 
all for the sake of ... I have forgotten what exactly. 
Fortunately I had not given them any account of sex- 
irregularities in the house, so all that the house-master did 
was to make a speech that night after prayers deterrent of 
bullying in general; he told us that he had just had a com- 
plaint from a boy’s parents. He made it plain at the same 
time how much he disliked informers and outside inter- 
ference in affairs of the house. My name was not mentioned, 
but the visit of my parents on a day not a holiday had been 
noticed and commented on. So I had to stay on and be 
treated as an informer. I was now in the upper school and so 
had a study of my own. But this was no security; studies 
had no locks. It was always being wrecked. After my 
parents’ visit to the house-master it was not even possible 
for me to use the ordinary house changing-room; I had to 
remove my games-clothes to a disused shower-bath. My 
heart went wrong then; the school doctor said I was not 
to play football. This was low water. My last resource was 
to sham insanity. It succeeded unexpectedly well. Soon 



nobody troubled about me except to avoid any contact with 

I must make clear that I am not charging my parents 
with treachery; they were trying to help me. Their honour 
is beyond reproach. . . . One day I went down to Charter- 
house by the special train from Waterloo to Godaiming. 
I was too late to take a ticket; I just got into a compartment 
before the train started. The railway company had not pro- 
vided enough coaches, so I had to stand up all the way. 
At Godaiming station the crowd of boys rushing out into 
the station-yard to secure taxis swept me past the ticket 
collectors, so I had got my very uncomfortable ride free. 
I mentioned this in my next letter home, just for something 
to say, and my father sent me a letter of reproach. He said 
that he had himself made a special visit to Waterloo Station, 
bought a ticket to Godaiming, and torn it up. . . . My 
mother was even more scrupulous. A young couple on their 
honeymoon once happened to stop the night with us at 
Wimbledon, and left behind them a packet of sandwiches, 
some of which had already been eaten. My mother sent 
them on. 

Being thrown entirely on myself I began to write poetry. 
This was considered stronger proof of insanity than the 
formal straws I wore in my hair. The poetry I wrote was 
not the easy showing-off witty stuff that all the Graves’ write 
and have written for the last couple of centuries. It was 
poetry that was dissatisfied with itself. When, later, things 
went better with me at Charterhouse, I became literary once 

I sent one of my poems to the school magazine. The 
Carthusian, On the strength of it I was invited to join the 
school Poetry Society. This was a most anomalous organiza- 


tion for Charterhouse. It consisted of seven members. The 
meetings, for the reading and discussion of poetry, -were 
held once a month at the house of Guy Kendall, then a form- 
master at the school, now headmaster of University College 
School at Hampstead. The members were four sixth-form 
boys and two boys a year and a half older than myself, one 
of whom was called Raymond Rodakowski. None of them 
were in the same house as myself. At Charterhouse no 
friendship was permitted between boys of different houses 
or of different years beyond a formal acquaintance at work 
or organized games like cricket and football. It was, for 
instance, impossible for boys of different houses, though 
related or next-door neighbours at home, even to play a 
friendly game of tennis or squash-racquets together. They 
would never have heard the last of it. So the friendship that 
began between me and Raymond was most unconventional. 
Coming home one evening from a meeting of the society I 
told Raymond about life in the house; I told him what had 
happened a week or two before. My study had been raided 
and one of my more personal poems had been discovered 
and pinned up on the public notice board in ‘Writing School.’ 
This was the living-room of the members of the lower school, 
into which, as a member of the upper school, I was not 
allowed to go, and so could not rescue the poem. Raymond 
was the first person I had been able to talk to humanly. 
He was indignant, and took my arm in his in the gentlest 
way. ‘They are bloody barbarians,’ he said. He told me 
that I must pull myself together and do something about it, 
because I was a good poet, he said, and a good person. I 
loved him for that. He said; ‘You’re not allowed to play 
football; why don’t you box? It’s supposed to be good for 
the heart.’ So I laughed and said I would. Then Raymond 


said: ‘I expect they rag you about your initials.’ ‘Yes,’ I 
said, ‘they call me a dirty German.’ ‘I had trouble, too,’ he 
said, ‘before I took up boxing.’ Raymond’s mother was 
Scottish, his father was an Austrian Pole. 

Very few boys at Charterhouse boxed and the boxing- 
room, which was over the school confectionery shop, was a 
good place to meet Raymond, whom, otherwise, I would not 
have been able to see often. I began boxing seriously and 
savagely. Raymond said to me: ‘You know these cricketers 
and footballers are all afraid of boxers, almost superstitious. 
They won’t box themselves for fear of losing their good 
looks -the inter-house competitions every year are such 
bloody affairs. But do you remember the Mansfield, 
Waller and Taylor show? That’s a good tradition to 
keep up.’ 

Of course I remembered. Two terms previously there 
had been a meeting of the school debating society which I 
had attended. The committee of the debating society was 
usually made up of sixth-form boys; the debates were formal 
and usually dull, but in so far as there was any intellectual 
life at Charterhouse, it was represented by the debating 
society — and by The Carthusian, always edited by two 
members of this committee; both institutions were free firom 
influence of the masters. Debates were always held in the 
school library on Saturday night. One debate night the 
usual decorous conventions were broken by an invasion of 
‘the bloods.’ The bloods were the members of the cricket 
and football elevens. They were the ruling caste at Charter- 
house; the eleventh man in the football eleven, though a 
member of the under-fourth form, had a great deal more 
prestige than the most brilliant classical scholar in the sixth. 
Even‘ Head of the School’ was an empty title. There was not. 


however, an open warfare between the sixth-form intellectuals 
and the bloods. The bloods were stupid and knew it, and had 
nothing to gain by a clash; the intellectuals were happy to be 
left alone. So this invasion of the bloods, who had just 
returned from winning a match against the Casuals, and 
had probably been drinking, caused the debating society a 
good deal of embarrassment. The bloods disturbed the 
meeting by cheers and cat-cries and slamming the library 
magazine-folders on the table. Mansfield, as president of 
the society, called them to order, but they continued the 
disturbance; so Mansfield closed the debate. The bloods 
thought the incident finished, but it was not. A letter 
appeared in The Carthusian a few days later protesting 
against the bad behaviour in the debating society of ‘certain 
First Eleven babies.’ Three sets of initials were signed and 
they were those of Mansfield, Waller and Taylor. The 
school was astonished by this suicidally daring act; it waited 
for Korah, Dathan and Abiram to be swallowed up. The 
captain of football is said to have sworn that he’d chuck the 
three signatories into the fountain in Founder’s Court. But 
somehow he did not. The fact was that this happened early 
in the autumn term and there were only two other First 
Eleven colours left over from the preceding year; new 
colours were only given gradually as the football season 
advanced. The other rowdies had only been embryo bloods. 
So it was a matter entirely between these three sixth-form 
intellectuals and the three colours of the First Eleven. And 
the First Eleven were uncomfortably aware that Mansfield 
was the heavy-weight boxing champion of the school. Waller 
the runner-up for the middle-weights, and that Taylor was 
also a person to be reckoned with (a tough fellow, though not 
perhaps a boxer - 1 forget). While the First Eleven were 


wondering what on earth to do their three opponents decided 
to take the war into the enemy’s country. 

The social code of Charterhouse was based on a very 
strict caste system; the caste-marks were slight distinctions 
in dress. A new boy had no privileges at all; a boy in his 
second term might wear a knitted tie instead of a plain one; 
a boy in his second year might wear coloured socks; third 
year gave most of the privileges - turned down collars, 
coloured handkerchiefs, a coat with a long roll, and so on; 
fourth year, a few more, such as the right to get up raffles; 
but very peculiar and unique distinctions were reserved for 
the bloods. These included light grey flannel trousers, 
butterfly collars, coats slit up the back, and the privilege of 
walking arm-in-arm. So the next Sunday Mansfield, Waller 
and Taylor did the bravest thing that was ever done at 
Charterhouse. The school chapel service was at eleven in 
the morning, but the custom was for the school to be in its 
seats by five minutes to eleven and to sit waiting there. At 
two minutes to eleven the bloods used to stalk in; at one 
and a half minutes to came the masters; at one minute to 
came the choir in its surplices; then the headmaster arrived 
and the service started. If any boy was accidentally late and 
sneaked in between five minutes to and two minutes to the 
hour, he was followed by six hundred pairs of eyes; there was 
nudging and giggling and he would not hear the last of it 
for a long time; it was as though he were pretending to be a 
blood. On this Sunday, then, when the bloods had come in 
with their usual swaggering assurance, an extraordinary 
thing happened. 

The three sixth-formers slowly walked up the aisle 
magnificent in grey flannel trousers, slit coats. First Eleven 
collars, and with pink carnations in their buttonholes. It is 


impossible to describe the astonishment and terror that this 
spectacle caused. Everyone looked at the captain of the 
First Eleven; he had gone quite white. But by this time the 
masters had come in, followed by the choir, and the opening 
hymn, though raggedly sung, ended the tension. When 
chapel emptied it always emptied according to ‘school order,’ 
that is, according to position in work; the sixth form went 
out first. The bloods were not high in school order, so 
Mansfield, Waller and Taylor had the start of them. After 
chapel on Sunday the custom in the winter terms was for 
people to meet and gossip in the school library; so it was 
here that Mansfield, Waller and Taylor went. They had 
buttonholed a talkative master and drawn him with them into 
the library, and there they kept him talking until dinner- 
time. If the bloods had had courage to do anything desperate 
they would have had to do it at once, but they could not 
make a scene in the presence of a master. Mansfield, Waller 
and Taylor went down to their houses for dinner still talking 
to the master. After this they kept together as much as 
possible and the school, particularly the lower school, 
which had always chafed under the dress regulations, made 
heroes of them, and began scoffing at the bloods as weak- 

Finally the captain of the eleven was stupid enough to 
complain to the headmaster about this breach of school 
conventions, asking for permission to enforce First Eleven 
rights by disciplinary measures. The headmaster, who was 
a scholar and disliked the games tradition, refused his 
request. He said that the sixth form deserved as distinctive 
privileges as the First Eleven. The sixth form would there- 
fore in future be entitled to hold what they had assumed. 
After this the prestige of the bloods declined greatly. 


At Raymond’s encouragement I pulled myself together and 
my third year found things very much easier for me. My 
chief persecutor, the Irishman, had left. It was said that he 
had had a bad nervous breakdown. He wrote me a hysterical 
letter, demanding my forgiveness for his treatment of me, 
saying at the same time that if I did not give this forgive- 
ness, one of his friends (whom he mentioned) was still in 
the house to persecute me. I did not answer the letter. I do 
not know what happened to him. The friend never bothered. 


I STILL had no friends except among the junior members of 
the house, to whom I did not disguise my dislike of the 
seniors; I found the juniors were on the whole a decent lot 
of fellows. Towards the end of this year, in the annual boxing 
and gymnastic display, I fought three rounds with Raymond. 
There is a lot of sex feeling in boxing — the dual play, the 
reciprocity, the pain not felt as pain. This exhibition match 
to me had something of the quality that Dr. Marie Stopes 
would call sacramental. We were out neither to hurt nor 
win though we hit each other hard. 

This public appearance as a boxer improved my position 
in the house. And the doctor now allowed me to play foot- 
ball again and I played it fairly well. Then things started 
going wrong in a different way. It began with confirmation, 
for which I was prepared by a zealous evangelical master. 
For a whole term I concentrated all my thoughts on religion, 
looking forward to the ceremony as a spiritual climax. When 
it came, and the Holy Ghost did not descend in the form of 
a dove, and I did not find myself gifted with tongues, and 
nothing spectacular happened (except that the boy whom the 
Bishop of Zululand was blessing at the same time as myself 
slipped off the narrow footstool on which we were both 
kneeling), I was bound to feel a reaction. Raymond had not 
been confirmed, and I was astonished to hear him admit 
and even boast that he was an atheist. I argued with him 
about the existence of God and the divinity of Christ and the 
necessity of the Trinity. He said, of the Trinity, that any- 
body who could agree with the Athanasian creed that 
‘whoever will be saved must confess that there are not Three 
Incomprehensibles but One Incomprehensible’ was saying 



that a man must go to Hell if he does not believe something 
that is by definition impossible to understand. He said that 
his respect for himself as a reasonable being did not allow 
him to believe such things. He also asked me a question: 
‘What’s the good of having a soul if you have a mind. What’s 
the function of the soul.? It seems a mere pawn in the game.’ 
I was shocked, but because I loved him and respected him 
I felt bound to find an answer. The more I thought about 
it the less certain I became that he was wrong. So in order 
not to prejudice religion (and I put religion and my chances 
of salvation before hmnan love) I at first broke my friend- 
ship with Raymond entirely. Later I weakened, but he 
would not even meet me, when I approached him, with any 
broad-church compromise. He was a complete and ruthless 
atheist and I could not appreciate his strength of spirit. For 
the rest of our time at Charterhouse we were not as close as we 
should have been. I met Raymond in France in X917, when 
he was with the Irish Guards; I rode over to see him one 
afternoon and felt as close to him as I had ever felt. He was 
killed at Cambrai not long after. 

My feeling for Raymond was more comradely than 
amorous. In my fourth year an even stronger relationship 
started. It was with a boy three years younger than myself, 
who was exceptionally intelligent and fine-spirited. Call 
him Dick, because his real name was the same as that of 
another person in the story. He was not in my house, 
but I had recently joined the school choir and so had 
he, and I had opportunities for speaking to him occasion- 
ally after choir practice. I was unconscious of sexual feeling 
for him. Otir conversations were always impersonal. Our 
acquaintance was commented on and I was warned by one 
of the masters to end it. I replied that I would not have my 


friendships in any way limited. I pointed out that this boy 
was interested in the same things as myself, particularly in 
books; that the disparity in our ages was unfortunate, but 
that a lack of intelligence among the boys of my own age 
made it necessary for me to find friends where I could. 
Finally the headmaster took me to task about it. I lectured 
him on the advantage of friendship between elder and younger 
boys, citing Plato, the Greek poets, Shakespeare, Michael 
Angelo and others, who had felt the same way as I did. He 
let me go without taking any action. 

In my fifth year I was in the sixth form and was made 
a house-monitor. There were six house-monitors. One of 
them was the house games-captain, a friendly, easy-going 
fellow. He said to me one day: ‘Look here, Graves, I have 
been asked to send in a list of competitors for the inter-house 
boxing competition; shall I put your name down?’ I had not 
boxed for two terms. I had been busy with football and 
played for the house rteam now. And since my coolness with 
Raymond boxing had lost its interest. I said: ‘I’m not 
boxing these days.’ ‘Well,’ he said, ‘young Alan is entering 
for the welter-weights. He’s got a very good chance. Why 
don’t you enter for the welter-weights too? You might be 
able to damage one or two of the stronger men and make it 
easier for him.’ I did not particularly like the idea of making 
things easier for Alan, but I obviously had to enter the 
competition. I had a reputation to keep up. I knew, how- 
ever, that my wind, though all right for football, was not 
equal to boxing round after round. I decided that my fights 
must be short. The night before the competition I smuggled 
a bottle of cherry-whisky into the house. I would shorten 
the fights on that. 

I had never drank anything alcoholic before in my life. 


When I was seven years old I was prevailed on to sign the 
pledge. My pledge card bound me to abstain by the grace 
of God from all spirituous liquors so long as I retained it. 
But my mother took the card from me and put it safely in 
the box-room with the Jacobean silver inherited from my 
Cheyne grandmother, Bishop Graves’ diamond ring which 
Queen Victoria gave him when he preached before her, our 
christening mugs, and the heavy early-Victorian jewellery 
bequeathed to my mother by the old lady whom she had 
looked after. And since box-room treasures never left the 
box-room, I regarded myself as permanently parted from 
my pledge. I liked the cherry-whisky a lot. 

The competitions started about one o’clock on a Saturday 
afternoon and went on until seven. I was drawn for the very 
first fight and my opponent by a piece of bad luck was Alan. 
Alan wanted me to scratch. I said I thought that it would 
look bad to do that. We consulted the house games-captain 
and he said: ‘No, the most sporting thing to do is to box it 
out and let the decision be on points; but don’t either of you 
hurt each other.’ So we boxed. Alan started showing off to 
his ftiends, who were sitting in the front row. I said: ‘Stop 
that. We’re boxing, not fighting,’ but a few seconds later 
he hit me again unnecessarily hard. I got angry and knocked 
him out. This was the first time I had ever knocked anyone 
outand I liked the feeling. I had drank a lot of cherry-whisky. 
I rather muzzily realized that I had knocked him out with 
a right swing on the side of the neck and that this blow was 
not part of the ordinary school-boxing curriculum. Straight 
lefts; lefts to body, rights to head; left and right hooks; all 
these were known, but the swing was somehow neglected, 
probably because it was not so ‘pretty.’ 

I went to the changing-room for my coat, and stout 


Sergeant Harris, the boxing instructor, said: ‘Look here, 
Mr. Graves, why don’t you put down your name for the 
middle-weight competition too?’ I cheerfully agreed. Then I 
went back to the house and had a cold bath and more cherry- 
whisky. My next fight was to take place in about half an 
hour for the first round of the middle-weights. This time my 
opponent, who was a stone heavier than myself but had little 
science, bustled me about for the first round, and I could see 
that he would tire me out unless something was done. In 
the second round I knocked him down with my right swing, 
but he got up again. I was feeling tired, so hastened to knock 
him down again. I must have knocked him down four or 
five times that round, but he refused to take the count. I 
found out afterwards that he was, like myself, conscious that 
Dick was watching the fight. He loved Dick too. Finally 
I said to myself as he lurched towards me again: ‘If he 
doesn’t go down and stay down this time, I won’t be able to 
hit him again at all.’ This time I just pushed at his jaw as it 
offered itself to me, but that was enough. He did go down 
and he did stay down. This second knock-out made quite a 
stir. Knock-outs were rare in the inter-house boxing com- 
petition. As I went back to the house for another cold bath 
and some more cherry-whisky I noticed the fellows looking 
at me curiously. 

The later stages of the competition I do not remember 
well. The only opponent that I was now at all concerned 
about was Raymond, who was nearly a stone heavier than 
myself and was expected to win the middle-weights; but he 
had also tried for two weights, the middle and the heavy, 
and had just had such a tough fight with the eventual winner 
of the heavy-weights that he was in no proper condition to 
fight. So he scratched his fight with me. I believe that he 


■would have fought all the same if it had been against someone 
else; but he was still fond of me and wanted me to win. His 
scratching would give me a rest between my bouts. A semi- 
finalist scratched against me in the welter-weights, so I only 
had three more fights, and I let neither of these go beyond 
the first round. The swing won me both weights, for which 
I was given two silver cups. But it had also broken both 
my thumbs; I had not got my elbow high enough over when 
I used it. 

The most important thing that happened to me in my last 
two years, apart from my attachment to Dick, was that I got 
to know George Mallory. He ■was twenty-six or twenty- 
seven then, not long up from Cambridge. He was so young 
looking that he was often mistaken for a member of the 
school. From the first he treated me as an equal, and I used 
to spend my spare time reading books in his room or going 
for walks with him in the country. He told me of the exist- 
ence of modern authors. My father being two generations 
older than myself and my only link ■with books, I had never 
heard of people like Shaw, Samuel Butler, Rupert Brooke, 
Wells, Flecker, or Masefield, and I was greatly interested 
in them. It was at George Mallory’s rooms that I first met 
Ed-ward Marsh, who has always been a good friend to me, 
and "with whom, though we seldom see each other now, 
I have never fallen out; in this he is almost unique among my 
pre-war friends. Marsh said that he liked my poems, which 
George had showed him, but pointed out that they were 
written in the poetic vocabulary of fifty years ago and that, 
though the quality of the poem was not necessarily impaired 
by this, there would be a natural prejudice in my readers 
against work written in 1913 in the fashions of 1863. 

George Mallory, Cyril Hartmann, Raymond, and I pub- 


lished a magazine in the summer of 1913 called Green 
Chartreuse. It was onl7 intended to have one number; new 
magazines at a public school always sell out the first number 
and lose heavily on the second. From Green Chartreuse I 
quote one of my own contributions, of autobiographical 
interest, written in the school dialect: 

My New-Bug’s Exam. 

When lights went out at half-past nine in the evening 
of the second Friday in the Quarter, and the faint footfalls 
of the departing House-Master were heard no more, the fun 

The Head of Under Cubicles constituted himself examiner 
and executioner, and was ably assisted by a timekeeper, a 
question-recorder, and a staff of his disreputable friends. 
I was a timorous ‘new-bug’ then, and my pyjamas were damp 
with the perspiration of fear. Three of my fellows had been 
examined and sentenced before the inquisition was directed 
against me. 

‘It’s Jones’ turn now,’ said a voice. ‘He’s the little brute 
that hacked me in run-about to-day. We must set him some 
tight questions!’ 

‘I say, Jones, what’s the colour of the House-Master — I 
mean what’s the name of the House-Master of the House, 
whose colours are black and white.? One, two, three. . . .’ 

‘Mr. Girdlestone,’ my voice quivered in the darkness, 

‘He evidently knows the simpler colours. We’ll muddle 
him. What are the colours of the Clubs to which Block 
Houses belong? One, two, three, four. . . .’ 

I had been slaving at getting up these questions for days, 
and just managed to blurt out the answer before being 
counted out. 



‘Two questions. No misses. We must buck up,’ said 

‘I say, Jones, how do you get to Farncombe from Weekites? 
One, two, three. . . .’ 

I had only issued directions as far as Bridge before being 
counted out. 

‘Three questions. One miss. You’re allowed three misses 
out of ten.’ 

‘Where is Charterhouse Magazine.'' One, two, three, 
four. . . .’ 

‘Do you mean The Carthusian office?’ I asked. 

Everyone laughed. 

‘Four questions. Two misses. I say, Robinson, he’s 
answered far too many. We’ll set him a couple of stingers.’ 
Much whispering. 

‘What is the age of the horse that rolls Under Green? 
One, two, three. . . .’ 

‘Sixl’ I said, at a venture. 

‘Wrong; thirty-eight. Six questions. Three misses! 
Think yourself lucky you weren’t asked its pedigree.’ 

‘What are canoeing colours? One, two, thr . . .’ 

‘There aren’t any!’ 

‘You’ll get cocked-up for festivity; but you can count it. 
Seven questions. Three misses. Jones?’ 


‘What was the name of the girl to whom rumour stated 
that last year’s football secretary was violently attached? One, 
two, three, four. . . .’ 

‘Daisy!’ (It sounded a likely name.) 

‘Oh really! Well, I happen to know last year’s football 
secretary; and he’ll simply kill you for spreading scandal. 
You’re wrong anyhow. Eight questions. Four misses!’ 


‘You’ll come to my “cube” at seven to-morrow morning; 
See? Good night!’ 

Here he waved his hair-brush over the candle, and a 
colossal shadow appeared on the ceiling. 

The Poetry Society died about this time — and this is how 
it died. Two of its sixth-form members came to a meeting 
and each read a rather dull and formal poem about love and 
nature; none of us paid much attention to them. But the 
following week they were published in The Carthusian^ and 
soon every one was pointing and giggling. Both poems, 
which were signed with pseudonyms, were acrostics, the 
initial letters spelling out a ‘case.’ ‘Case’ meant ‘romance,’ 
a formal coupling of two boys’ names, with the name of the 
elder boy first. In these two cases both the first names 
mentioned were those of bloods. It was a foolish act of 
aggression in the feud between sixth form and the bloods. 
But nothing much would have come of it had not another 
of the sixth-form members of the Poetry Society been in 
love with one of the smaller boys whose names appeared in 
the acrostics. In rage and jealousy he went to the head- 
master and called his attention to the acrostic — which other- 
wise neither he nor any other of the masters would have 
noticed. He pretended that he did not know the authors; 
but though he had not been at the particular meeting where 
the poems were read, he could easily have guessed them 
from the styles. Before things had taken this turn I had 
incautiously told someone who the authors were; so I was 
now dragged into the row as a witness against them. The 
headmaster took a very serious view of the case. The two 
poets were deprived of their monitorial privileges; the editor 
of The Carthusian.^ who, though aware of the acrostics, had 


accepted the poems, was deprived of his editorship and of 
his position as head of the school. The informer, who 
happened to be next in school order, succeeded him in both 
capacities; he had not expected this development and it 
made him most unpopular. His consolation was a real one, 
that he had done it all for love, to avenge the public insult 
done to the boy. And he was a decent fellow, really. The 
Poetry Society was dissolved in disgrace by the headmaster’s 
orders. Guy Kendall was one of the few masters who insisted 
on treating the boys better than they deserved, so I was 
sorry for him when this happened; it was an T told you so’ for 
the other masters, who did not believe either in poetry or in 
school uplift societies. I owe a great debt of gratitude to 
Kendall; the meetings of the Poetry Society were all that 
I had to look forward to when things were at their worst 
for me. 

My last year at Charterhouse I devoted myself to doing 
everything I could to show how little respect I had for the 
school tradition. In the winter of 1913 I won a classical 
exhibition at St. John’s College, Oxford, so that I could go 
slow on school work. Nevill Barbour and I were editing the 
Carthusian^ and a good deal of my time went in that. Nevill, 
who as a scholar had met the same sort of difficulties as myself, 
also had a dislike of most Charterhouse traditions. We 
decided that the most objectionable tradition of all was 
compulsory games. Of these cricket was the most objection- 
able, because it wasted most time in the best part of the year. 
We began a campaign in favour of tennis. We were not 
seriously devoted to tennis, but it was the best weapon we 
had against cricket — ^the game, we wrote, in which the selfish- 
ness of the few was supposed to excuse the boredom of the 
many. Tennis was quick and busy. We asked Old Carthu- 


sian tennis internationalists to contribute letters proposing 
tennis as the manlier and more vigorous game. We even 
got the famous Anthony Wilding to write. The games- 
masters were scandalized at this assault on cricket; to them 
tennis was ‘pat ball,’ a game for girls. But the result of our 
campaign was surprising. Not only did we double our sales, 
but a fund was started for providing the school with a number 
of tennis-courts and making Charterhouse the cradle of 
public-school tennis. Though delayed by the war, these 
courts actually appeared. I noticed them recently as I went 
past the school in a car; there seemed to be plenty of them. 
I wonder, are there tennis-bloods at Charterhouse now? 

Poetry and Dick were now the only two things that really 
mattered. My life with my fellow house-monitors was one 
of perpetual discord. I had grudges against them all except 
the house-captain and the head-monitor. The house-captain, 
the only blood in the house, spent most of his time with his 
fellow bloods in other houses. The head-monitor was a 
scholar who, though naturally a decent fellow, had been 
embittered by his first three years in the house and was 
much on his dignity. He did more or less what the other 
monitors wanted him to do, and I was sorry that I had to 
Ivunp him in with the rest. My love for Dick provoked a 
constant facetiousness, but they never dared to go too far. 
I once caught one of them in the bathroom scratching up 
a pair of hearts conjoined, with Dick’s initials and mine on 
them. I pushed him into the bath and turned the taps on. 
The next day he got hold of a manuscript note-book of mine 
that I had left on the table in the monitors’ room with some 
other books. It had poems and essay notes in it. He and 
the other monitors, except the house-captain, annotated it 
critically in blue chalk and all signed their initials. The 


house-captain would have nothing to do with this: he thought 
it ungentlemanly. I was furious when I found what had 
been done. I made a speech. I demanded a signed apology. 
I said that if I were not given it within an hour I would choose 
one of them as solely responsible and punish him. I said 
that I would now have a bath and that the first monitor 
that I met after my bath I would knock down. 

Whether by accident or whether it was that he thought 
his position made him secure, the first monitor I met in the 
corridor was the head-monitor. I knocked him down. It 
was the time of evening preparation, which only the monitors 
were free not to attend. But a fag happened to pass on an 
errand and saw the blow and the blood; so it could not be 
hushed up. The head-monitor went to the house-master 
and the house-master sent for me. He was an excitable, 
elderly man who had some difficulty in controlling his spittle 
when angry. He made me sit down in a chair in his study, 
then stood over me, clenching his fists and crying in his 
high falsetto voice: ‘Do you realize you have done a very 
brutal action.^’ His mouth was bubbling. I was as angry as 
he was. I jumped up and clenched my fists too. Then I said 
that I would do the same thing to anyone who, after scribbling 
impertinent remarks on my private papers, refused to 
apologize. ‘Private papers. Filthy poems,’ said the house- 

I had another difiicult interview with the headmaster over 
this. But it was my last term, so he allowed me to finish my 
five years without ignominy. He was puzzled by the frank- 
ness of my statement of love for Dick. He reopened the 
question. I refused to be ashamed. I heard afterwards that 
he had said that this was one of the rare cases of a friendship 
between boys of unequal ages which he felt was essentially 


moral. I went through one of the worst quarters of an hour 
of my life on Dick’s account in this last term. When the 
master had warned me about exchanging glances with Dick 
in chapel I had been infuriated. But when I was told by one 
of the boys that he had seen the master surreptitiously 
kissing Dick once, on a choir-treat or some such occasion, 
I went quite mad. I asked for no details or confirmation. 
I went to the master and told him he must resign or I would 
report the case to the headmaster. He already had a reputa- 
tion in the school for this sort of thing, I said. Kissing boys 
was a criminal offence. I was morally outraged. Probably 
my sense of outrage concealed a murderous jealousy. I was 
surprised when he vigorously denied the charge; I could not 
guess what was going to happen next. But I said: ‘Well, 
come to the headmaster and deny it to him.’ He asked: ‘Did 
the boy tell you this himself.^’ I said ‘No.’ ‘Well then,’ he 
said, ‘I’ll send for him here and he shall tell us the truth.’ 
So Dick was sent for and arrived looking very frightened, 
and the house-master said menacingly: ‘Graves tells me that 
I once kissed you. Is that true?’ Dick said: ‘Yes, it is true.’ 
So Dick was dismissed and the master collapsed, and I felt 
miserable. He said he would resign at the end of the term, 
which was quite near, on grounds of ill-health. He even 
thanked me for speaking directly to him and not going to 
the headmaster. That was in the summer of 1914; he went 
into the army and was killed the next year. I found out 
much later from Dick that he had not been kissed at aU. It 
may have been some other boy. 

One of the last events that I remember at Charterhouse 
was a debate with the motion that ‘this House is in favour of 
compulsory military service.’ The Empire Service League, 
or whatever it was called, of which Earl Roberts of Kandahar, 


V.C.j was the President, sent down a propagandist to support 
the motion. There were only six votes out of one hundred 
and nineteen cast against it. I was the principal speaker 
against the motion, a strong anti-militarist. I had recently 
resigned from the Officers’ Training Corps, having revolted 
against the theory of implicit obedience to orders. And 
during a fortnight spent the previous summer at the O.T.C. 
camp at Tidworth on Salisbury Plain, I had been frightened 
by a special display of the latest military fortifications, 
barbed-wire entanglements, machine-guns, and field artillery 
in action. General, now Field-Marshal Sir William Robert- 
son, whose son was a member of the school, had visited the 
camp and impressed upon us that war against Germany was 
inevitable within two or three years, and that we must be 
prepared to take our part in it as leaders of the new forces 
that would assuredly be called into being. Of the six voters 
against the motion Nevill Barbour and I are, I believe, the 
only ones who survived the war. 

My last memory was the headmaster’s good-bye. It was 
this: ‘Well, good-bye. Graves, and remember this, that your 
best friend is the waste-paper basket.’ 

I used to speculate on which of my contemporaries would 
distinguish themselves after they left school. The war upset 
my calculations. Many dull boys had brief brilliant military 
careers, particularly as air-fighters, becoming squadron and 
flight commanders. ‘Fuzzy’ McNair, the head of the school, 
won the V.C. as a Rifleman; young Sturgess, who had been 
my study fag, distinguished himself more unfortunately by 
flying the first heavy bombing machine of a new pattern 
across the Channel on his first trip to France and making a 
beautiful landing (having mistaken the landmarks) at an 
aerodrome behind the German lines. A boy whom I admired 


very much during my first year at Charterhouse was the 
Hon. Desmond O’Brien. He was the only Carthusian in my 
time who cheerfully disregarded all school rules. He had 
skeleton keys for the school library, chapel and science 
laboratories and used to break out of his house at night and 
carefully disarrange things there. The then headmaster was 
fond of O’Brien and forgave him much. O’Brien had the 
key of the headmaster’s study too and, going there one night 
with an electric torch, carried off a memorandum which he 
showed me — ‘Must expel O’Brien.’ He had a wireless 
receiving-station in one of the out-of-bounds copses on the 
school grounds, and he discovered a ventilator shaft down 
which he could hoot into the school library from outside 
and create great disturbance without detection. One day we 
were threatened with the loss of a Saturday half-holiday 
because some member of the school had killed a cow with a 
catapult, and nobody would own up. O’Brien had fired the 
shot; he was away at the time on special leave for a sister’s 
wedding, A friend wrote to him about the half-holiday. He 
sent the headmaster a telegram: ‘Killed cow sorry coming 
O’Brien.’ At last, having absented himself from every lesson 
and chapel for three whole days, he was expelled. He was 
killed early in the war while bombing Bruges. 

At least one in three of my generation at school was killed. 
This was because they all took commissions as soon as they 
could, most of them in the infantry and flying corps. The 
average life of the infantry subaltern on the Western front 
was, at some stages of the war, only about three months; that is 
to say that at the end of three months he was either wounded or 
killed. The proportions worked out at about four wounded 
to every one killed. Of the four one was wounded seriously 
and the remaining three more or less lightly. The three 


lightly wounded returned to the front after a few weeks or 
months of absence and were again subject to the same odds. 
The flying casualties were even higher. Since the war lasted 
for four and a half years, it is easy to see why the mortality 
was so high among my contemporaries, and why most of 
the survivors, if not permanently disabled, were wounded 
at least two or three times. 

Two well-known sportsmen were contemporaries of mine: 
A. G. Bower, captain of England at soccer, who was only 
an average player at Charterhouse, and Woolf Barnato, the 
Surrey cricketer (and millionaire racing motorist), who also 
was only an average player. Barnato was in the same house as 
myself and we had not a word to say to each other for the 
four years we were together. Five scholars have made names 
for themselves: Richard Hughes as a B.B.C. playwright; 
Richard Goolden as an actor of old-man parts; Vincent 
Seligman as author of a propagandist life of Venizelos; Cyril 
Hartmann as an authority on historical French scandals; 
and my brother Charles as society gossip-writer on the 
middle page of The Daily Mail, Occasionally I see another 
name or two in the newspapers. There was one the other 
day - M . . . who was in the news for escaping from a 
private lunatic asylum. I remembered that he had once 
oflFered a boy ten shillings to hold his hand in a thunderstorm 
and that he had frequently threatened to run away from 


George Mallory did something better than lend me books, 
and that was to take me climbing on Snowdon in the school 
vacations. I knew Snowdon very well from a distance, from 
my bedroom window at Harlech. In the spring its snow cap 
was the sentimental glory of the landscape. The first time 
I went with George to Snowdon we stayed at the Snowdon 
Ranger Hotel at Quellyn Lake. It was January and the 
mountain was covered with snow. We did little rock- 
climbing, but went up some good snow slopes with rope and 
ice-axe. I remember one climb the objective of which was 
the summit; we found the hotel there with its roof blown 
off in the blizzard of the previous night. We sat by the 
cairn and ate Carlsbad plums and liver-sausage sandwiches. 
Geoffrey Keynes, the editor of the Nonesuch Blake, was there; 
he and George, who used to go drunk with excitement at 
the end of his climbs, picked stones off the cairn and shied 
them at the chimney stack of the hotel until they had sent 
it where the roof was. 

George was one of the three or four best climbers in 
climbing history. His first season in the Alps had been 
spectacular; nobody had expected him to' survive it. He 
never lost his almost foolhardy daring; yet he knew all that 
there was to be known about climbing technique. One 
always felt absolutely safe with him on the rope. George went 
through the war as a lieutenant in the artillery, but his 
nerves were apparently xmaffected — on his leaves he went 

When the war ended he was more in love with the 
mountains than ever. His death on Mount Everest came 
five years later. No one knows whether he and Irvine 

9 * 


actually made the last five hundred yards of the climb or 
whether they turned back or what happened; but anyone 
who had climbed with George felt convinced that he did 
get to the summit, that he rejoiced in his accustomed way 
and had not sufficient reserve of strength left for the descent. 
I do not think that it was ever mentioned in the newspaper 
account of his death that George originally took to climbing 
when he was a scholar at Winchester as a corrective to his 
weak heart. 

George was wasted at Charterhouse, where, in my time 
at least, he was generally despised by the boys because he 
was neither a disciplinarian nor interested in cricket or foot- 
ball. He tried to treat his classes in a friendly way and that 
puzzled and offended them. There was a tradition in the 
school of concealed warfare between the boys and the 
masters. It was considered no shame to cheat, to lie, or to 
deceive where a master was concerned; yet to do the same 
to a member of the school was immoral. George was also 
unpopular with the house-masters because he refused to 
accept this state of war and fraternized with the boys 
whenever he could. When two house-masters who had been 
unfriendly to him happened to die within a short time of each 
other he joked to me: ‘See, Robert, how mine enemies flee 
before my face.’ I always called him by his Christian name, 
and so did three or four more of his friends in the school. 
This lack of dignity in him put him beyond the pale both 
with the boys and the masters. Eventually the falseness of 
his position told on his temper; yet he always managed to 
find four or five boys in the school who were, like him, out 
of their element, and befriended them and made life tolerable 
for them. Before the final Everest expedition he had 
decided to resign and do educational work at Cambridge 


with, I believe, the Workers’ Educational Association. 
He was tired of trying to teach gentlemen to be gentle- 

I spent a season with George and a large number of 
climbers at the hotel at Pen-y-Pass on Snowdon in the 
spring of 1914. This time it was real precipice-climbing, 
and I was lucky enough to climb with George, with H. E. L. 
Porter, a renowned technician of climbing, with Kitty 
O’Brien and with Conor O’Brien, her brother, who after- 
wards made a famous voyage round the world in a twenty- 
ton or five-ton or some even-less-ton boat. Conor climbed 
principally, he told us, as a corrective to bad nerves. He 
used to get very excited when any slight hitch occurred; 
his voice would rise to a scream. Kitty used to chide him: 
‘Ach, Conor, dear, have a bit of wit,’ and Conor would 
apologize. Conor, being a sailor, used to climb in bare feet. 
C 3 ften in climbing one has to support the entire weight of 
one’s body on a couple of toes — but toes in stiff boots. 
Conor said that he could force his naked toes farther into 
crevices than a boot would go. 

But the most honoured climber there was Geoffrey Young. 
Geoffrey had been climbing for a number of years and was 
president of the Climbers’ Club. I was told that his four 
closest friends had all at different times been killed climbing; 
this was a comment on the extraordinary care with which he 
always climbed. It was not merely shown in his preparations 
for a climb — the careful examination, foot by foot, of the 
alpine rope, the attention to his boot-nails and the balanced 
loading of his knapsack — but also in his cautiousness in the 
climbing itself. Before making any move he thought it out 
foot by foot, as though it were a problem in chess. If the 
next handhold happened to be just a little out of his reach or 


the next foothold seemed at all unsteady he would stop and 
think of some way round the difficulty. George used some- 
times to get impatient, but Geoffrey refused to be hurried. 
He was short, which put him at a disadvantage in the matter 
of reach. He was not as double-jointed and prehensile as 
Porter or as magnificent as George, but he was the perfect 
climber. And still remains so. This in spite of having lost 
a leg while serving with a Red Cross unit on the Italian 
front. He climbs with an artificial leg. He has recently 
published the only satisfactory text-book on rock-climbing. 
I was very proud to be on a rope with Geoffrey Young. 
He said once: ‘Robert, you have the finest natural balance 
that I have ever seen in a climber.’ This compliment pleased 
me far more than if the Poet Laureate had told me that I 
had the finest sense of rhythm that he had ever met in a 
young poet. 

It is quite true that I have a good balance; once, in Switzer- 
land, it saved me from a broken leg or legs. My mother 
took us there in the Christmas holidays of 1913—14, 
ostensibly for winter sports, but really because she thought 
that she owed it to my sisters to give them a chance to meet 
nice young men of means. About the third day that I put 
on skis I went up from Champery, where we were staying 
and the snow was too soft, to Morgins, a thousand feet’ 
higher, where it was like sugar. Here I found an ice-run 
for skeleton-toboggans. Without considering that skis have 
no purchase on ice at all, I launched myself down it. After 
a few yards my speed increased alarmingly and I suddenly 
realized what I was in for. There were several sharp turns 
in the run protected by high banks, and I had to trust 
entirely to body-balance in swerving round them. I reached 
the terminus still upright and had my eyes damned by a 


frightened sports-club official for having endangered my 
life on his territory. 

In an essay on climbing that I wrote at the time, I said 
it was a sport that made all others seem trivial. ‘New climbs 
or new variations of old climbs are not made in a com- 
petitive spirit, but only because it is satisfactory to stand 
somewhere on the earth’s surface where nobody else has 
stood before. And it is good to be alone with a specially 
chosen band of people — people that one can trust com- 
pletely. Rock-climbing is one of the most dangerous sports 
possible, unless one keeps to the rules; but if one does keep 
to the rules it is reasonably safe. With physical fitness in 
every member of the climbing team, a careful watch on the 
weather, proper overhauling of climbing apparatus, and 
with no hurry, anxiety or stunting, climbing is much safer 
than fox-hunting. In hunting there are uncontrollable 
factors, such as hidden wire, holes in which a horse may 
stumble, caprice or vice in the horse. The climber trusts 
entirely to his own feet, legs, hands, shoulders, sense of 
balance, judgment of distance.’ 

The first climb on which I was taken was up Crib-y- 
ddysgel. It was a test climb for beginners. About fifty feet 
up from the scree, a height that is really more frightening 
than five hundred, because death is almost as certain and 
much more immediate, there was a long sloping shelf of 
rock, about the length of an ordinary room, to be crossed 
from right to left. It was without handholds or footholds 
worth speaking of and too steep to stand upright or kneel 
on without slipping. It shelved at an angle of, I suppose, 
forty-five or fifty degrees. The accepted way to cross it was by 
rolling in an upright position and trusting to friction as a 
maintaining force. Once I got across this shelf without 


disaster I felt that the rest of the climb was easy. The climb 
was called The Gambit. Robert Trevelyan, the poet, was 
given this test in the previous season, I was told, and had 
been unlucky enough to fall off. He was pulled up short, 
of course, after a few feet by the rope of the leader, who was 
well belayed; but the experience disgusted him with climbing 
and he spent the rest of his time on the mountains just 
walking about. 

Belaying means making fast on a projection of rock a loop 
of the rope which is wound round one’s waist, and so dis- 
posing the weight of the body that, if the climber above or 
below happens to slip and fall, the belay will hold and the 
whole party will not go down together. Alpine rope has a 
breaking point of a third its own length. Only one member 
of the climbing team is moving at any given time, the others 
are belayed. Sometimes on a precipice it is necessary to move 
up fifty or sixty feet before finding a secure belay as a point 
from which to start the next upward movement, so that if 
the leader falls and is unable to put on a brake in any way 
he must fall more than twice that length before being pulled 
up. On the same day I was taken on a spectacular though 
not unusually difficult climb on Crib Goch. At one point 
we traversed roxind a knife-edge buttress. From this knife- 
edge a pillar-like bit of rock, technically known as a mono- 
lith, had split away. We scrambled up the monolith, which 
overhung the valley with a clear five hundred feet drop, 
and each in turn stood on the top and balanced. The next 
thing was to make a long, careful stride from the top of the 
monolith to the rock face; here there was a ledge just wide 
enough to take the toe of a boot, and a handhold at con- 
venient height to give an easy pull-up to the next ledge. 
I remember George shouting down from above: ‘Be careful 


of that foothold, Robert. Don’t chip the edge off or the 
climb will be impossible for anyone who wants to do it 
again. It’s got to last another five hundred years at least.’ 

I was only in danger once. I was climbing with Porter 
on an out-of-the-way part of the mountain. The climb, 
known as the Ribbon Track and Girdle Traverse, had not 
been attempted for about ten years. About half-way up we 
came to a chimney. A chimney is a vertical fissure in the 
rock wide enough to admit the body; a crack is only wide 
enough to admit the boot. One works up a chimney side- 
ways with back and knees, but up a crack with one’s face 
to the rock. Porter was leading and fifty feet above me in 
the chimney. In making a spring to a handhold slightly 
out of reach he dislodged a pile of stones that had been 
wedged in the chimney. They rattled down and one rather 
bigger than a cricket ball struck me on the head and knocked 
me out. Fortunately I was well belayed and Porter was 
already in safety. The rope held me up; I recovered my 
senses a few seconds later and was able to continue. 

The practice of Pen-y-Pass was to have a leisurely break- 
fast and lie in the sun with a tankard of beer before starting 
for the precipice foot in the late morning. Snowdon was a 
perfect mountain for climbing. The rock was sound and 
not slippery. And once you came to the top of any of the 
precipices, some of which were a thousand feet high, but 
all just climbable one way or another, there was always an 
easy way to run down. In the evening when we got back 
to the hotel we lay and stewed in hot baths. I remember 
wondering at my body — the worn fingernails, the bruised 
knees, and the lump of climbing muscle that had begun to 
bunch above the arch of the foot, seeing it as beautiful in 
relation to this new purpose. My worst climb was on 


Lliwedd, the most formidable of the precipices, when at a 
point that needed most concentration a raven circled round 
the party in great sweeps. This was curiously unsettling, 
because one climbs only up and down, or left and right, and 
the raven was suggesting all the diverse possibilities of 
movement, tempting us to let go our hold and join him. 


I WAS at Harlech when war was declared; I decided to enlist 
a day or two later. In the first place, though only a very 
short war was expected — two or three months at the very 
outside — I thought that it might last just long enough to 
delay my going to Oxford in October, which I dreaded. I 
did not work out the possibilities of being actively engaged 
in the war. I thought that it would mean garrison service at 
home while the regular forces were away. In the second 
place, I entirely believed that France and England had been 
drawn into a war which they had never contemplated and 
for which they were entirely unprepared. It never occurred 
to me that newspapers and statesmen could lie. I forgot 
my pacifism — I was ready to believe the worst of the Ger- 
mans. I was outraged to read of the cynical violation of 
Belgian neutrality. I wrote a poem promising vengeance 
for Louvain. I discounted perhaps twenty per cent, of the 
atrocity details as war-time exaggeration. That was not, of 
course, enough. Recently I saw the following contemporary 
newspaper cuttings quoted somewhere in chronological 

‘When the fall of Antwerp got known the church bells 
were rung’ (i.e. at Cologne and elsewhere in Germany). — 
KSlnische Zeitung. 

‘According to the Kdlttische Zeitung^ the clergy of 
Antwerp were compelled to ring the church bells when 
the fortress was taken.’ - Le Matin (Paris.) 

‘According to what The Times has heard from Cologne, 



via Paris, the unfortunate Belgian priests who refused to 
ring the church bells when Antwerp was taken have been 
sentenced to hard labour.’ - Corriere della Sera (Milan.) 

‘According to information to the Corriere della Sera 
from Cologne, via London, it is confirmed that the 
barbaric conquerors of Antwerp punished the unfortunate 
Belgian priests for their heroic refusal to ring the church 
bells by hanging them as living clappers to the bells with 
their heads down.’ — Le Matin (Paris.) 

When I was in the trenches a few months later I happened 
to belong to a company mess in which four of us young 
officers out of five had, by a coincidence, either German 
mothers or naturalized German fathers. One of them said; 
‘Of course I’m glad I joined when I did. If I’d put it off 
for a month or two they’d have accused me of being a German 
spy. As it is I have an uncle interned at Alexandra Palace, 
and my father’s only been allowed to retain the membership 
of his golf club because he has two sons in the trenches.’ 
I said: ‘Well, I have three or four uncles sitting somewhere 
opposite, and a number of cousins too. One of my uncles is 
a general. But that’s all right. I don’t brag about them. 
I only advertise the uncle who is a British admiral com- 
manding at the Nore.’ 

Among my enemy relatives was''my cousin Conrad, who 
was the same age as myself, and the son of the German consul 
at Zurich. In January 1914 I had gone ski-ing with him 
between the trees in the woods above the city. We had 
tobogganed together down the Dolderstrasse in Zurich 
itself, where the lampposts were all sandbagged and family 
toboggans, skidding broadside on at the turns, were often 


crashed into by single-seater skeletons; arms and legs were 
broken by the score and the crowds thought it a great joke. 
Conrad served with a crack Bavarian regiment all through 
the war, and won the ‘Pour le M^rite’ Order, which was 
more rarely awarded than the British Victoria Cross. He 
was killed by the Bolsheviks after the war in a village on the 
Baltic where he had been sent to make requisitions. He was 
a gentle, proud creature, whose chief interest was natural 
history. He used to spend hours in the woods studying the 
habits of wild animals; he felt strongly against shooting 
them. Perhaps the most outstanding military feat was 
that of an uncle who was dug out at the age of sixty or so 
as a lieutenant in the Bavarian artillery. My youngest 
brother met him a year or two ago and happened to mention 
that he was going to visit Rheims. My uncle nudged him: 
‘Have a look at the cathedral. I was there with my battery 
in the war. One day the divisional general came up to me 
and said: “Lieutenant, I understand that you are a Lutheran, 
not a Catholic?” I said that this was so. Then he said: 
“I have a very disagreeable service for you to perform. 
Lieutenant. Those misbegotten swine, the French, are 
using the cathedral for an observation post. They think they 
can get away with it because it’s Rheims Cathedral, but this 
is war and they have our trenches taped from there. So I 
call upon you to dislodge them.” I only needed to fire 
two rounds and down came the pinnacle and the Frenchmen 
with it. It was a very neat bit of shooting. I was proud to 
have limited the damage like that. Really, you must go 
and have a look at it.’ 

The nearest regimental depot was at Wrexham: the Royal 
Welch Fusiliers. The Harlech golf secretary suggested my 
taking a commission instead of enlisting. He rang up the 



adjutant and said that I was a public-school boy who had 
been in the Officers’ Training Corps at Charterhouse. So 
the adjutant said: ‘Send him right along,’ and on nth 
August I started my training. I immediately became a hero 
to my family. My mother, who said to me: ‘My race has 
gone mad,’ regarded my going as a religious act; my father 
was proud that I had ‘done the right thing.’ I even recovered, 
for a time, the respect of my uncle, C. L. Graves, of The 
Spectator and Punch., with whom I had recently had a tiff. 
He had given me a sovereign tip two terms previously and 
I had written my thanks, saying that with it I had bought 
Samuel Butler’s Note Books, The Way of All Flesh and the 
two Erewhons. To my surprise this had infuriated him. 

The fellows who applied for commissions at the same time 
as myself were for the most part boys who had recently 
failed to pass into the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, 
and were trying to get into the regular army by the old 
mi'itia door - which was now known as the Special Reserve. 
There were only one or two fellows who had gone into the 
army, like myself, for the sake of the war and not for the 
sake of a career. There were about a dozen of us recruit 
officers on the Square learning to drill and be drilled. My 
Officers’ Training Corps experience made this part easy, 
but I knew nothing about army traditions and made all the 
worst mistakes; saluting the bandmaster, failing to recognize 
the colonel when in mufti, walking in the street without a 
belt and talking shop in the mess. But I soon learned to 
conform. My greatest difficulty was to talk to men of the 
company to which I was posted with the necessary air of 
authority. Many of them were old soldiers re-enlisted, and 
I disliked bluffing that I knew more than they did. There 
were one or two very old soldiers employed on the depot staff. 




wearing the ribbon of Burma, 1885, and of even earlier cam- 
paigns, and usually also the ribbon of the ‘Rooti’ or good 
service medal awarded for eighteen years of undetected crime. 
There was one old fellow called Jackie Barrett, a Kipling 
character, cf whom it was said: ‘There goes Jackie Barrett. 
He and his mucking-in chum deserted the regiment in 
Quetta and went across the north-west frontier on foot. 
Three months later he gave himself up as a deserter to the 
British consul at Jerusalem. He buried his chum by the way.’ 

I was on the square only about three weeks before being 
sent off on detachment duty to Lancaster to a newly-formed 
internment camp for enemy aliens. The camp was a disused 
wagon-works near the river, a dirty, draughty place, littered 
with old scrap-metal and guarded with high barbed-wire 
fences. There were about three thousand prisoners already 
there and more and more piled in every day; seamen arrested 
on German vessels in Liverpool harbour, waiters from big 
hotels in the north, an odd German band or two, harmless 
German commercial travellers and shopkeepers. The 
prisoners were resentful at being interned, particularly those 
who were married and had families and had lived peaceably 
in England for years. The only comfort that we could give 
was that they were safer inside than out; anti-German feeling 
was running high, shops with German names were continually 
being raided and even German women were made to feel 
that they were personally responsible for the Belgian atrocities. 
Besides, we said, if they were in Germany they would be 
forced into the army. At this time we made a boast of our 
voluntary system. We did not know that there would come 
a time when these internees would be bitterly envied by 
forcibly-enlisted Englishmen because they were safe until 
the war ended. 


In the summer of 1915 The Times reprinted in the daily 
column, Through German Eyes, a German newspaper account 
by Herr Wolff, an exchanged prisoner, of his experiences 
at Lancaster in 1914. The Times found very amusing Herr 
WolfFs allegations that he and forty other waiters from the 
Midland Hotel, Manchester, had been arrested and taken, 
handcuffed and fettered, in special railway carriages to 
Lancaster under the escort of fifty Manchester policemen 
armed with carbines. But it was true, because I was the 
officer who took them over from the chief inspector. He 
was a fine figure in frogged uniform and gave me a splendid 
salute. I signed him a receipt for his prisoners and he gave 
me another salute. He had done his job well and was proud 
of it. The only mishap was the accidental breaking of two 
carriage windows by the slung carbines. Wolff also said 
that even children were interned in the camp. This was 
true. There were a dozen or so little boys from the German 
bands who had been interned because it seemed more 
humane to keep them with their friends than to send them 
to a workhouse. Their safety in the camp caused the 
commandant great concern. 

I had a detachment of fifty Special Reservists, most of 
them with only about six weeks’ service. They had joined 
the army just before war started as a cheap way of getting a 
holiday at the training camp; to find themselves forced to 
continue beyond the usual fortnight annoyed them. They 
were a rough lot, Welshmen from the border counties, and 
were constantly deserting and having to be fetched back by 
the police. They made nervous sentries, and were probably 
more frightened of the prisoners than the prisoners were of 
them. Going the round of sentries on a dark night about 
2 a.m. was dangerous. Very often my lantern used to blow 


out and I would fumble to light it again in the dark and hear 
the frightened voice of a sentry roar out, ‘Halt! Who goes 
there?’ and know that he was standing with his rifle aimed 
and his magazine charged with five live rounds. I used to 
gasp out the password just in time. Rifles were often being 
fired off at shadows. The prisoners were a rowdy lot; the 
sailors particularly were always fighting. I saw a prisoner 
spitting out teeth and blood one morning. I asked him 
what was wrong. ‘Oh, sir, one no-good friend give me one 
clap on the chops.’ Frequent deputations were sent to 
complain of the dullness of the food; it was the same ration 
food that was served to the troops. But after a while they 
realized the war and settled down to sullen docility; they 
started hobbies and glee parties and games and plans for 
escape. I had far more trouble with my men. They were 
always breaking out of their quarters. I could never find 
out how they did it. I watched all the possible exits, but 
caught no one. Finally I discovered that they used to crawl 
out through a sewer. They boasted of their successes with 
the women. Private Kirby said to me: ‘Do you know, sir? 
On the Sunday after we arrived, all the preachers in Lancaster 
took as their text, “Mothers, take care of your daughters; 
the Royal Welch have come to town.” ’ 

The camp staff consisted of: 

A fatherly colonel of the Loyal North Lancashire 
Regiment, the commandant. 

His secretary, by name C. B. Gull, one of the best-known 
pre-war figures in Oxford, owner of the Isis, and combined 
divinity, athletics and boxing coach. We used to box 
together to keep fit. He also sponsored me as a candidate 
for the local lodge of The Royal Antediluvian Order of 
Bufialoes. The Grand Marshal who officiated at my initiation 



had drank four or five pints of ‘bitter-gatter’ and a glass or 
two of ‘juniper’ (these were secret words) and continually 
short-circuited in the ritual. He kept on returning to the 
part where they intone: 

Grand Marshal: Spirit of true Buffaloism hover around 

Response: Benevolence and joy ever attend us! 

The assistant-commandant, who alleged that he had ten 
years more seniority than any other major in the British 
army and made wistful jokes about his lost virility. His 
recurrent theme was: ‘If you only knew how much that 
would mean to an old man like me.’ 

The adjutant, an East Lancashire lieutenant, by name 
Deane. The day after war was declared a German armed 
cruiser had held up the neutral liner in which he was sailing 
home from the Cape and taken him oS. He was forced to 
give his parole not to fight against Germany in the war. The 
cruiser was subsequently sunk by a British ship, the High- 
flyer, and Deane was rescued; but the signed parole was 
saved by the German captain, who escaped in a boat and 
gave it in charge of the German consul at Las Palmas. So 
Deane was forbidden the trenches, and when I met him in 
1917 he was a staff-colonel. 

A doctor who was the mess buffoon. I broke the scabbard 
of my sword on his back one night. 

The interpreter, a Thomas Cook man who could speak 
every European language but Basque. He admitted to a 
weakness in Lithuanian, and when asked what his own 
nationality was would answer, ‘I am Wagon-Lits.’ 

I had an inconvenient accident. The telephone bell was 
constantly going from Western Command Headquarters; it 
was installed in an ofiice-room where I slept on a sloping 


desk. One night Pack-Saddle (the code-name for the Chief 
Supply Officer of the Western Command) rang up shortly 
after midnight with orders for the commandant. They were 
about the rationing of a batch of four hundred prisoners 
who were being sent up to him from Chester and North 
Wales. I was half asleep and not clever at the use of the 
telephone. In the middle of the conversation, which was 
difficult because a storm was going on at the time and 
Pack-Saddle was irritable, the line was, I suppose, struck by 
lightning somewhere. I got a bad electric shock, and was 
unable to use a telephone properly again until some twelve 
years later. 

Guarding prisoners seemed an unheroic part to be playing 
in the war, which had now reached a critical stage; I wanted 
to be abroad fighting. My training had been interrupted, 
and I knew that even when I was recalled from detachment 
duty I would have to wait a month or two at least before 
being sent out. When I got back to the depot in October 
I found myself stale. The adjutant, a keen soldier, decided 
that there were two things wrong with me. First of all, I 
dressed badly. I had apparently gone to the wrong tailor, and 
had also had a soldier-servant palmed off on me who was no 
good. He did not polish my buttons and shine my belt and 
boots as he should have done, and neglected me generally; 
as I had never had a valet before I did not know how to 
manage him or what to expect of him. The adjutant finally 
summoned me to the Orderly Room and threatened that he 
would not send me to France until I had entirely overhauled 
my wardrobe and looked more like a soldier. My company 
commander, he said, had reported me to him as ‘imsoldierlike 
and a nuisance.’ This put me in a fix, because my pay only 
just covered the mess bills, and I knew that I could not ask 


my parents to buy me another outfit so soon after I had 
assured them that I had everything necessary. The adjutant 
next decided that I was not a sportsman. This was because 
on the day that the Grand National (I think) was run all the 
young ofiicers applied for leave to see the race except myself, 
and I volunteered to take the job of Orderly Officer of the 
Day for someone who wanted to go. 

I saw my contemporaries one by one being sent out to 
France to take the place of casualties in the First and Second 
Battalions, while I remained despondently at the depot. 
But once more boxing was useful. Johnny Basham, a 
sergeant in the regiment, was training at the time for his 
fight (which he won) with Boswell for the Lonsdale Belt, 
welter-weight. I went down to the training camp one 
evening, where Basham was offering to fight three rounds 
with any member of the regiment, the more the merrier. 
One of the officers put on the gloves and Basham got roars 
of laughter from the crowd as soon as he had taken his 
opponent’s measure, by dodging about and playing the fool 
with him. I asked Basham’s manager if I could have a go. 
He gave me a pair of shorts and I stepped into the ring. 
I pretended that I knew nothing about boxing. I led off 
with my right and moved about clumsily. Basham saw a 
chance of getting another laugh; he dropped his guard and 
danced about with a you-can’t-hit-me challenge. I caught 
him off his balance and knocked him across the ring. He 
recovered and went for me, but I managed to keep on my 
feet; I laughed at him and he laughed too. We had three 
very brisk rounds, and he was decent in making it seem that 
I was a much better boxer than I was by accommodating his 
pace to mine. As soon as the adjutant heard the story he 
rang me up at my billet and told me that he was very pleased 




to hear of my performance, that for an oiEcer to box like 
that was a great encouragement to the men, that he was 
mistaken about my sportsmanship, and that to show his 
appreciation he had put me down for a draft to go to France 
in a week’s time. 

Of the officers who had been sent out before me several 
had already been killed or wounded. Among the killed was 
Second-Lieutenant W. G. Gladstone, whom we called Glad 
Eyes. He was in his early thirties; a grandson of old 
Gladstone, whom he resembled in feature, a Liberal M.P., 
and lord-lieutenant of his county. When war was hanging in 
the balance he had declared himself against it. His Hawarden 
tenantry were ashamed on his account, and threatened, he 
told us, to duck him in the pond. Realizing, once war was 
declared, that further protest was useless, he immediately 
joined the regiment as a second-lieutenant. His political 
convictions remained. He was a man of great integrity and 
refused to take the non-combative employment as a staff- 
colonel offered him at Whitehall. When he went to France 
to the First Battalion he took no care of himself. He was 
killed by a sniper when unnecessarily exposing himself. His 
body was brought home for a military funeral at Hawarden; 
I attended it. 

I have one or two random memories of this training period 
at Wrexham. The landlord of my billet was a Welsh solicitor, 
who greatly overcharged us while pretending amicability. 
He wore a wig — or, to be more exact, he had three wigs, 
with hair of progressive lengths. When he had worn the 
medium-sized hair for a few days he would put on the wig 
with long hair, and say that, dear him, it was time to get a 
hair-cut. Then he would go out of the house and in a public 
lavatory perhaps or a wayside copse would change into the 




short-haired wig, which he wore until it was time to change 
to the medium one again. This deception was only discovered 
when one of the officers billeted with me got drunk and 
raided his bedroom. This officer, whose name was Williams, 
was an extreme example of the sly border Welshman. The 
drunker he got the more shocking his confessions. He told 
me one day about a girl he had got engaged to in Dublin, 
and even slept with on the strength of a diamond engagement 
ring. ‘Only paste really,’ he said. The day before the 
wedding she had had a foot cut off by a Dalkey tram, and 
he had hurriedly left the city. ‘ But, Graves, she was a lovely, 
lovely girl before that happened,’ He had been a medical 
student at Trinity College, Dublin. Whenever he went to 
Chester, the nearest town, to pick up a prostitute, he not 
only used to appeal to her patriotism to charge him nothing, 
but he always gave her my name. I knew of this because 
these women used to write to me. One day I said to him in 
mess; ‘In future you are going to be distinguished from all 
the other Williams’ in the regiment by being called Dirty 
Williams.’ The name stuck. By one shift or another he 
escaped all trench-service except for a short spell in a quiet 
sector, and lasted the war out safely. 

Private Robinson. He was from Anglesey, and had joined 
the Special Reserve before the war for his health. In 
September the entire battalion volunteered for service over- 
seas except Robinson. He said he would not go, and that he 
could be neither coaxed nor bullied. Finally he was brought 
before the colonel, who was genuinely puzzled at his 
obstinacy. Robinson explained that he was not afraid. ‘I 
have a wife and pigs at home.’ The battalion was, in Sep- 
tember, rigged out in a temporary navy-blue uniform until 
khaki might be a'mlable. All but Robinson. They decided 


to shame him. So he continued, by order, to wear the peace- 
time scarlet tunic and blue trousers with a red stripe; a very 
dirty scarlet tunic (they had put him on the kitchen staff). 
His mates called him Cock Robin and sang a popular chorus 
at him: 

And I never get a knock 
When the bovs call Cock 
Cockity ock, cock, 

Cock Robin! 

In my old red vest I mean to cut a shine. . . . 

But Robinson did not care: 

For the more they call me Robin Redbreast 
I’ll wear it longer still. 

I will wear a red waistcoat, I will, 

I will, I will, I will, I will, I will! ^ 

So in October he was discharged as medically unfit: ‘Of 
under-developed intelligence, unlikely to be of service in 
His Majesty’s Forces,’ and went home to his wife and pigs. 
While, of the singers, those who survived Festubert in the 
following May did not survive Loos in the following 

Recruit officers spent a good deal of their time at Company 
and Battalion Orderly Room, learning how to deal with 

^‘Why,’ said the cobbler, “what should I do? Will you have me to 
go in the King’s wars and to be killed for my labour?’ ‘What, knave,’ 
said Skelton, ‘art thou a coward, having so great bones?’ ‘No,’ said 
the cobbler, ‘I am not afeared: it is good to sleep in a whole skin.’- 
Merrt Tams of Skelton (JEarly sixteenth century). 


crime. Crime, of course, meant any breach of army regula- 
tions; and there was plenty of it. In these days Battalion 
Orderly Room would last four or five hours every day, at 
the rate of one crime dealt with every three or four minutes. 
This was apart from the scores of less serious ofiFences tried 
by company commanders. The usual Battalion Orderly 
Room crimes were desertion, refusing to obey an order, using 
obscene language to a non-commissioned officer, drunk and 
disorderly, robbing a comrade, and so on. On pay-nights 
there was hardly a man sober; and no attention was paid 
so long as there was silence as soon as the company officer 
came on his rounds just before Lights Out. (Two years later 
serious crime had diminished to a twentieth of that amount, 
though the battalion was treble its original strength, and 
though many of the cases that the company officers had dealt 
with summarily now came before the colonel; and there was 
practically no drunkenness.) 

There was a boy called Taylor in my company. He had 
been at Lancaster, and I had bought him a piccolo to play 
when the detachment went out on route-marches; he would 
give us one tune after another for mijp after mile. The other 
fellows carried his pack and rifle. At Wrexham, on pay-nights, 
he used to sit in the company billet, which was a drill-hall 
near the station, and play jigs for the drunks to dance to. 
He never drank himself. The music was slow at first, but 
he gradually quickened it until he worked them into a frenzy. 
He would delay this climax until my arrival with the company 
orderly-sergeant. The sergeant would fling open the door 
and bellow: ‘F Company, Attention!’ Taylor would break 
off, thrust the piccolo under his blankets, and spring to his 
feet. The drunks were left frozen in the middle of their 
capers, blinking stupidly. 

Cii. X 



In the first Battalion Orderly Room that I attended I 
was surprised to hear a private soldier charged with a nursery 
offence, about the committal of which expert evidence was 
given and heard without a smile. I have an accurate record 
of the trial but my publishers advise me not to give it here. 

Orderly Room always embarrassed and dispirited me. 
I never got used to it even after sentencing thousands of 
men myself. There was something shameful about it. The 
only change that the introduction of the civilian element 
into the army brought was that about half-way through the 
war an army order came out that henceforth the word of 
command was to be ‘Accused and escort, right turn, quick 
march,’ etc., instead of ‘Prisoner and escort, right turn, 
quick march, etc.’ It was only very seldom that an interest- 
ing case came up. Even the obscene language, always 
quoted verbatim, was drearily the same; the only variation I 
remember from the four stock words was in the case of a 
man charged with using threatening and obscene language 
to an N.C.O. The man had, it appeared, said to a lance- 
corporal who had a down on him: ‘Corporal Smith, two men 
shall meet before two mountains.’ Humour only came from 
the very Welsh Welshmen from the hills who had an im- 
perfect command of English. One of them, charged with 
being absent off ceremonial parade and using obscene 
language to the sergeant, became very indignant in Orderly 
Room and cried out to the colonel: ‘Colonel, sir, sergeant 
tole me wass I for guard; I axed him no, and now the bloody 
bastard says wass I.’ 

The greatest number of simultaneous charges that I ever 
heard preferred against a soldier was in the case of Boy 
Jones at Liverpool in 1917. He was charged with, first, 
using obscene language to the bandmaster; the bandmaster. 



who was squeamish, reported it as: ‘Sir, he called me a 
double effing c — Next, with breaking out of the detention 
that was awarded for this crime. Third, with ‘absenting him- 
self from the regiment until apprehended in the Hindenburg 
Line, France.’ Fourth, with resisting an escort. Fifth, 
with being found in possession of regimental property of 
the Cheshire Regiment. Boy Jones, who was only fourteen 
and looked thirteen, had wriggled through the bars of his 
detention-cell and, after getting a few things together at 
his hut, had gone to Liverpool Exchange Station to wait for 
a victim. The victim was a private in a Bantam Battalion 
just returning to France from leave. He treated the bantam 
to a lot of drink and robbed him of his rifle, equipment, 
badges and papers. He then went off in his place. Arrived 
in France he was posted to the Bantam Battalion; but this 
did not suit him. He wanted to be with his own regiment. 
He deserted the Bantams, who were somewhere north of 
Arras, and walked south along the trenches looking for his 
regiment, having now resumed his proper badges. After a 
couple of days’ walk he found the Second Battalion and 
reported and was immediately sent home, though he had 
a struggle with the escort at the railhead. The punishment 
for all these offences was ten days confined to camp and a 
spanking from the bandmaster. 

The most unusual charge was against the regimental 
goat-major (a corporal); it was first framed as Lese majesty^ 
but this was later reduced to ‘disrespect to an officer: in that 
he, at Wrexham — on such and such a date — did prostitute 
the Royal Goat, being the gift of His Majesty the Colonel- 
in-Chief from His royal herd at Windsor, by offering his 

stud-services to , Esq., farmer and goat breeder, of 

Wrexham.’ The goat-major pleaded that he had done this 


out of kindness to the goat, to which he was much attached. 
He was reduced to the ranks and the charge of the goat 
given to another. 

The regular battalions of the regiment, though officered 
mainly by Anglo-Welshmen of county families, did not 
normally contain more than about one Welshman in fifty 
in the ranks. They were mainly recruited in Birmingham. 
The only man at Harlech besides myself who had joined 
the regiment at the start was a poor boy, a golf-caddie, 
who had got into trouble a short time before for shop- 
lifting. The chapels held soldiering to be sinful, and in 
Merioneth the chapels were supreme. Prayers were offered 
for me in the chapels, not because of the dangers I ran in the 
war, but because I was in the army. Later, Lloyd George 
persuaded the chapels that the war was a crusade. So there 
was a sudden tremendous influx of Welshmen from North 
Wales. They were difficult soldiers; they particularly resented 
having to stand still while the N.C.O.’s swore at them. A 
deputation of North Welshmen came to me once and said: 
‘Captain Graves, sir, we do not like our sergeant-major; he 
do curse and he do swear, and he do drink, and he is a maan 
of lowly origin, too.’ 

At Wrexham we learned regimental history, drill, 
musketry, Boer War field-tactics, military law and organiza- 
tion, how to recognize bugle calls, how to work a machine- 
gun, and how to conduct ourselves as officers on formal 
occasions. We dug no trenches, handled no bombs and 
came to think of the company, not of the platoon, still less 
of the section, as the smallest independent tactical unit. 
There were only two wounded officers back from the front 
at the time; both had left the Second Battalion on the retreat 
from Mons. Neither would talk much of his experiences. 


All that one of them, Emu Jones, would tell us was: ‘The 
first queer sight I saw in France was three naked women 
hanging by their feet in a butcher’s shop.’ The other would 
say: ‘The shells knock hell out of a man, especially the big 
black ones. Just hell. And that fellow Emu; he wasn’t any 
good. We marched and marched and he had a weak heart 
and used to faint and expect his poor, bloody platoon to 
carry him as well as the rest of their load. We used to swear 
he was shamming. Don’t believe what old Emu tells you of 
the retreat.’ 


I WILL try to recall my war-time feelings about the Royal 
Welch Fusiliers, I used to congratulate myself on having 
chosen, quite blindly, this of all regiments. ‘Good God!’ I 
used to think, ‘suppose that when the war broke out I had 
been living in Cheshire and had applied for a commission in 
the Cheshire Regiment.’ I thought how ashamed I should 
have been to find in the history of that regiment (which was 
the old Twenty-second Foot, just senior in the line to the 
Royal Welch, which was the Twenty-third) that it had 
been deprived of its old title ‘The Royal Cheshires’ as a 
punishment for losing a battle. Or how lucky not to have 
joined the Bedfords. Though the Bedfords had made a 
name for themselves in this war, they were still called ‘The 
Peacemakers.’ For they only had four battle-honours on 
their colours and none of these more recent than the year 
1 71 1; it was a sneer that their regimental motto was: ‘Thou 
shalt not kill.’ Even the Black Watch, the best of the 
Highland regiments, had a stain on its record; and everyone 
knew about it. If a Tommy of another regiment went into 
a public bar where men of the Black Watch were drinking, 
and felt brave enough to start a fight, he would ask the bar- 
maid not for ‘pig’s ear,’ which is rhyming-slang for beer, 
but for a pint of ‘broken square.’ Then belts would be 

The Royal Welch record was beyond reproach. There 
were twenty-nine battle-honours on its colours, a number 
only equalled by two other two-battalion regiments. And 
the Royal Welch had the advantage of these since they were 
not single regiments, but recent combinations of two 
regiments each with its separate history. The First Battalion 



of the Royal Welch Fusiliers had twenty-six battle-honours 
of its own, the remaining three having been won by the Second 
Battalion in its short and interrupted existence. They were 
all good bloody battle-honours, none of them like that battle 
of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders into which, it 
was said, they had gone with nine hundred men and from 
which they had come out with nine hundred and one — no 
casualties, and a band-boy come of age and promoted a 
private. For many hard battles, such as The Boyne and 
Aughrim and the capture of Lille, the Royal Welch had 
never been honoured. The regiment had fought in each of 
the four hardest fought victories of the British army, as 
listed by Sir John Fortescue. My regimental history is rusty, 
but I believe that they were The Boyne, Malplaquet, 
Albiihera and Inkerman. That is three out of four. It may 
have been Salamanca or Waterloo instead of The Boyne. 
It was also one of the six Minden regiments and one of the 
front-line regiments at that. They performed the un- 
precedented feat of charging a body of cavalry many times 
their own strength and driving it off the field. The surrender 
at York Town in the American War of Independence was 
the regiment’s single disaster, but even that was not a 
disgrace. It was accorded the full honours of war. Its 
conduct in the hard fighting at Lexington, at Guildford 
Court House, and in its suicidal advance up Bunker’s Hill, 
had earned it them. 

I caught the sense of regimental tradition a day or two 
after I arrived at the depot. In a cupboard in the junior 
anteroom at the mess, I came across a big leather-bound 
ledger and pulled it out to see what it was about. It was the 
Daily Order-book of the First Battalion in the trenches before 
Sebastopol. I opened it at the page giving orders for the 


attack on the Redan Fort. Such and such a company was 
desired to supply volunteers for the storming party under 
Lieutenant So-and-so. There followed details of their arms 
and equipment, the number of ladders they were to carry, 
and the support to be afforded by other companies. Then 
details of rations and supply of ammunition, with an earnest 
Godspeed from the co'mmanding officer. (A sketch of the 
commanding officer was on the wall above my head, lying 
sick in his tent at Scutari, wearing a cap-comforter for the 
cold.) And the next entries were about clearing up after an 
unsuccessful attack — orders for the burial of the dead, 
thanks from headquarters for the gallantry vainly displayed, 
and a notice that the effects of the late Lieutenant So-and-so, 
who had led the storming party, would be sold at public 
auction in the trenches next day. In another day’s orders 
was the notice of the Victoria Cross awarded to Sergeant 
Luke O’Connor. He had lived to be Lieutenant-General 
Sir Luke O’Connor and was now colonel of the regiment. 

The most immediate piece of regimental history that I 
met as a recruit-officer was the flash. The flash is a fan-like 
bunch of five black ribbons, each ribbon two inches wide 
and seven and a half inches long; the angle at which the 
fan is spread is exactly regulated by regimental convention. 
It is stitched to the back of the tunic collar. Only the Royal 
Welch are privileged to wear it. The story is that the Royal 
Welch were abroad on foreign service for several years in 
the 1830’s, and by some chance never received the army 
order abolishing the queue. When the regiment returned and 
paraded at Plymouth the inspecting general rated the com- 
manding officer because his men were still wearing their 
hair in the old fashion. The commanding officer, angry 
with the slight, immediately rode up to London and won 



from King William IV, through the intercession of some 
Court official, the regimental privilege of continuing to wear 
the bunch of ribbons in which the end of the queue was 
tied -the flash. It was to be a distinctive badge worn by- 
all ranks in reward for the regiment’s exemplary service in 
the Napoleonic wars. 

The Army Council, which is usually composed of cavalry, 
engineer, and artillery generals, with the infantry hardly 
represented, had never encouraged regimental peculiarities, 
and perhaps could not easily forget the irregularity of the 
colonel’s direct appeal to the Sovereign in the matter of the 
flash. The flash was, at any rate, not sanctioned by the Army 
Council on the new khaki service dress. None the less, the 
officers and warrant-officers continued to wear it. There 
was a correspondence in the early stages of the war, I was 
told, between the regiment and the Army Council. The 
regiment maintained that since the flash was a distinctive 
mark won in war it should be worn with service dress and 
not merely -with peace-time scarlet. The Army Council put 
forward the objection that it was a distinctive mark for enemy 
marksmen and particularly dangerous when worn only by 
officers. The regiment retorted by inquiring on what occasion 
since the retreat from Corunna, when the regiment was the 
last to leave Spain, with the key of the town postern in the 
pocket of one of its officers, had any of Hi<5 Majesty’s enemies 
seen the back of a Royal Welch Fusilier? The Army Council 
was firm, but the regiment was obstinate, and the matter 
was in abeyance throughout the war. Once in 1917, when 
an officer of my company went to Buckingham Palace to be 
decorated with the Military Cross, the King, as colonel-in- 
chief of the regiment, showed a personal interest in the 
matter. He asked: ‘You are serving in one of the line 


battalions?’ ‘The Second Battalion, Your Majesty.’ So the 
King gave him the order: ‘About turn,’ and looked at the 
flash, and then ‘About turn’ again. ‘Good,’ he said, ‘you’re 
still wearing it, I see,’ and then, in a stage whisper: ‘Don’t 
ever let anyone take it from you.’ The regiment was de- 
lighted. After the war, when scarlet was abandoned on the 
grounds of expense, the Army Council saw that it could 
reasonably sanction the flash on service dress for all ranks. 
As an additional favour it consented to recognize another 
defiant regimental peculiarity, the spelling of the word 
‘Welch’ with a ‘c’. The permission was published in a special 
Army. Order in 1919. The Daily Herald commented 
‘’Strewth!’ as if it were unimportant. That was ignorance. 
The spelling with a ‘c’ was as important to us as the miniature 
cap-badge worn at the back of the cap was to the Gloucesters 
(a commemoration of the time when they fought back to 
back: was it at Quatre Bras?). I have seen a young officer 
sent off battalion parade because his buttons read Welsh 
instead of Welch. ‘ Welch’ referred us somehow to the 
antique North Wales of Henry Tudor and Owen Glendower 
and Lord Herbert of Cherbury, the founder of the regiment; 
it dissociated us from the modern North Wales of chapels, 
liberalism, the dairy and drapery business, Lloyd George, 
and the tourist trade. 

The regiment was extremely strict on the standard meas- 
urements of the flash. When new-army battalions were 
formed and rumours came to Wrexham that in, I think, 
the Eighteenth Battalion ofiicers were wearing flashes nearly 
down to their waists, there was great consternation. The 
adjutant sent off the youngest subaltern on a special mission 
to the camp of the Eighteenth Battalion, the colonel of which 
was not a Royal Welch Fusilier, but a loan from one of the 



Yorkshire regiments. He was to present himself at the 
Battalion Orderly Room with a large pair of shears. 

The new -army battalions were as anxious to be regimental 
as the line battalions. It once happened in France that a major 
of the Royal Fusiliers entered the mess of the Nineteenth 
(Bantam) Battalion of the Royal Welch Fusiliers. He greeted 
the mess with ‘Good afternoon, gentlemen,’ and called for a 
drink from the mess sergeant. After he had talked for a bit 
he asked the senior officer present: ‘Do you know why 
I ordered that drink from the mess sergeant?’ The Welch 
Fusilier said: ‘Yes, you wanted to see if we remembered 
about Albuhera.’ The Royal Fusilier answered: ‘Well, our 
mess is just along behind that wood there. We haven’t 
forgotten either.’ After Albuhera the few survivors of the 
Royal Welch Fusiliers and the Royal Fusiliers had messed 
together on the captured hill. It was then decided that 
henceforth and for ever the officers of each regiment were 
honorary members of the other’s mess, and the N.C.O.’s 
the same. 

Perhaps the most legendary item was Thomas Atkins. He 
was a private soldier in the First Battalion who had served 
under W ellington in the Peninsular W ar. It is said that when, 
many years later, Wellington at the War Office was asked 
to approve a specimen form for military attestation, he had 
ordered it to be amended from: ‘I, Private John Doe of the 
blank regiment, do hereby, etc.,’ to ‘I, Private Thomas 
Atkins of the Twenty-third Foot, do hereby, etc.’ And 
now I am going to spoil the story, because I cannot for the 
life of me remember what British grenadierish conduct it 
was that made Wellington remember. And so here ends my 
very creditable (after eleven years) lyrical passage. 

I was, as a matter of fact, going on to St. David’s Night. AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 123 

To the raw leeks eaten to the roll of the drum with one foot 
on a chair and one on the mess table enriched with spoils of 
the Summer Palace at Pekin. (They are not at all bad to eat 
raw, despite Shakespeare.) And to the Royal Goat with gilded 
horns that once leapt over the mess table with the drummer- 
boy on its back. And Major Toby Purcell’s Golden Spurs. 
And Shenkin Ap Morgan, the First Gentleman of Wales. 
And ‘The British Grenadiers,’ the regimental march-past. 
I was going to explain that British grenadiers does not mean, 
as most people think, merely the Grenadier Guards. It 
includes all regiments, the Royal Welch among them, which 
wear a bursting grenade as a collar and cap-badge to recall 
their early employment as storm troops armed with bombs. 

In the war the Royal Welch Fusiliers grew too big; this 
damaged regimental esprit de corps. Before the war there 
were the two line battalions and the depot; the affiliated and 
flash-less territorials, four battalions recruited for home 
service, could be disregarded, in spite of their regular 
adjutants. The Third Battalion, which trained at the depot, 
was a poor relation. Now more and more new-army bat- 
talions were added (even a Twenty-fifth Battalion was on 
service in 1917, and was as good a battalion as the Eighth). 
So the regiment (that is, consensus of opinion in the two 
line battalions) only tentatively accepted the new-army 
battalions one by one as they proved themselves worthy, by 
service in the field. The territorials it never accepted, dis- 
owning them contemptuously as ‘dog-shooters.’ The fiict 
was that three of the four territorial battalions failed sig- 
nally in the Suvla Bay landing at Gallipoli. One battalion, it 
was known, had offered violence to its officers; the com- 
manding officer, a regular, had not cared to survive that day. 
Even the good work that these battalions did later in Palestine 


could not cancel this disgrace. The remaining territorial 
battalion was attached to the First Division in France early 
in 1915, where, at Givenchy, it quite unnecessarily lost its 
machine-guns. Regimental machine-guns in 1915 were 
regarded almost as sacred. To lose one’s machine-guns 
before the annihilation of the entire battalion was considered 
as bad as losing the regimental colours would have been in 
any eighteenth or nineteenth-century battle. The machine- 
gun ofBcer had congratulated himself on removing the 
machine-gun bolts before abandoning the guns; it would 
make them useless to the enemy. But he had forgotten to 
take away the boxes of spare-parts. The Second Battalion 
made a raid in the same sector a year and a half later and 
recaptured one of the guns, which had been busy against 
the British trenches ever since. 

As soon as we arrived at the depot we Special Reserve 
officers were reminded of our great good fortune. We were 
to have the privilege of serving with one or the other of the 
line battalions. In peace-time a candidate for a commission 
in the regiment had not only to distinguish himself in the 
passing-out examination at the Royal Military College, 
Sandhurst, and be strongly recommended by two officers of 
the regiment, but he had to have a guaranteed independent 
income that enabled him to play polo and hunt and keep 
up the social reputation of the regiment. These requirements 
were not insisted on; but we were to understand that we did 
not belong to the ‘regiment’ in the special sense. To be 
allowed to serve with it in time of war should satisfy our 
ambitions. We were not temporary officers, like those of the 
new army, but held permanent commissions in the Special 
Reserve battalion. We were reminded that the Royal Welch 
considered themselves second to none, even to the Guards. 


Representations had been made to the regiment after the 
South African War, inquiring whether it was willing to 
become the Welsh Guards, and it had indignantly refused; 
such a change would have made the regiment junior, in the 
Brigade of Guards, even to the Irish Guards only so recently 
formed. We were warned that while serving with a line 
battalion we were none of us to expect to be recommended 
for orders or decorations. An ordinary campaigning medal 
inscribed with a record of service with the battalion should 
be sufficient reward. Decorations were not regarded in the 
regiment as personal awards, but as representative awards 
for the whole battalion. They would therefore be reserved 
for the professional soldiers, to whom they would be more 
useful than to us as helps to extra-regimental promotion. 
And this was what happened. There must have been some- 
thing like two or three hundred Special Reserve officers 
serving overseas. But except for three or four who were not 
directly recommended by the battalion commander, but dis- 
tinguished themselves while attached to brigade or divisional 
staffs, or those who happened to be sent to new-army 
battalions or other regiments, we remained undecorated. I 
can only recall three exceptions. The normal proportion of 
awards, considering the casualties we suffered, which was 
about sixty or seventy killed, should have been at least ten 
times that amount. I myself never performed any feat for 
which I might conceivably have been decorated throughout 
my service in France. 

Theregimental spirit persistently survived all catastrophes. 
Our First Battalion, for instance, was annihilated within two 
months of joining the British Expeditionary Force. Young 
Orme, who joined straight from Sandhurst, at the crisis of 
the first battle of Ypres, found himself commanding a 


battalion reduced to only about forty rifles. With these and 
another small force, the remnants of the Second Battalion of 
the Queen’s Regiment, reduced to thirty men and two 
officers, he helped to recapture three lines of lost trenches 
and was himself killed. The reconstituted battalion, after 
heavy fighting at Bois Grenier in December, was again all 
but annihilated at the Aubers Ridge and Festubert in the 
following May, and again at Loos in September, when the 
one officer-survivor of the attack was a machine-gun officer 
loaned from the South Staffordshire Regiment, The same 
sort of thing happened time after time in fighting at Fricourt, 
the Quadrangle, High Wood, Delville Wood, and Ginchy 
on the Somme in 1916, and again at Puisieux and Bullecourt 
in the spring fighting of 1917. In the course of the war at 
least fifteen or twenty thousand men must have passed 
through each of the two line battalions, whose fighting 
strength was never more than eight hundred. After each 
catastrophe the ranks were filled up with new drafts from 
home, with the lightly wounded from the previous disaster 
returning after three or four months’ absence, and with the 
more seriously wounded returning after nine months or a 

In the First and Second Battalions throughout the war it 
was not merely the officers and non-commissioned officers 
who knew their regimental history. The men knew far more 
about Minden and Albuhera and Waterloo than they did 
about the fighting on the other fronts or the official causes 
of the 'war. 

In 19165 when on leave in England after being wounded 
on the Somme, I began an account of my first few months 
in France. Unfortunately, I wrote it as a novel and I have 
now to retranslate it into history. I will give one re- 
constituted chapter: 

On arrival in France we six Royal Welch Fusilier officers 
went to the Harfleur base-camp near Havre. Later it was 
to become an educational centre for trench-routine, use of 
bombs, trench-mortars, rifle-grenades, gas-helmets, and 
similar technicalities. But now we did a route-march or two 
through the French countryside and that was all, except for 
fatigues in Havre at the docks, helping the Army Service 
Corps unload stores from ships. The town was gay. As 
soon as we had arrived we were accosted by numerous little 
boys pimping for their sisters. T take you to my sister. 
She very nice. Very good jig-a-jig. Not much money. 
Very cheap. Very good. I take you now. Plenty champagne 
for me?’ We were glad when we got orders to go up the 
line. But disgusted to find ourselves attached not to the 
Royal Welch Fusiliers, but to the Welsh Regiment. 

We had heard little about the Welsh Regiment except 
that it was tough but rough, and that the Second Battalion, 
to which we were now attached, had a peculiar regimental 
history as the old Sixty-ninth Foot. It had originally been 
formed as an emergency force from pensioners and boy-* 
recruits and sent overseas to do the work of a regular 
battalion — I forget in which eighteenth-century campaign. 
At one time it had served as marines. The Ups and Downs 
was the battalion’s army nick-name,' partly because 69 is a 
number which makes the same sense whichever way up it is 



section. There were five of these boys; William Bumford, 
collier, for instance, who gave his age as eighteen, was really 
only fifteen. He used to get into trouble for falling asleep 
on sentry duty. The official penalty for this was death, but 
I had observed that he could not help it. I had seen him 
suddenly go to sleep, on his feet, while holding a sandbag 
open for another fellow to fill. So we got him a job as 
orderly to a chaplain for a while, and a few months later all 
men over fifty and all boys under eighteen were combed out 
and sent to the base. Bumford and Burford were both sent; 
but neither escaped the war. Bumford was old enough to be 
sent back to the battalion in the later stages of the war, and 
was killed; Burford was killed, too, in a bombing accident 
at the base-camp. Or so I was told — the fate of many of 
my comrades in France has come to me merely as hear- 

The troop-train consisted of forty-seven coaches and took 
twenty-five hours to arrive at B^thune, the rail-head. We 
went via St. Omer. It was about nine o’clock in the evening 
and we were hungry, cold and dirty. We had expected a 
short journey and so allowed our baggage to be put in a 
locked van. We played nap to keep our minds off the dis- 
comfort and I lost sixty francs, which was over two pounds 
at the existing rate of exchange. On the platform at B^thune 
a little man in filthy khaki, wearing the Welsh cap-badge, 
came up with a friendly touch of the cap most unlike a 
salute. He was to be our guide to the battalion, which was 
in the Cambrin trenches about ten kilometres away. He 
asked us to collect the draft of forty men we had with us and 
follow him. We marched through the unlit suburbs of the 
town. We were all intensely excited at the noise and flashes 
of the guns in the distance. The men of the draft had none 


of them been out before, except the sergeant in charge. They 
began singing. Instead of the usual music-hall songs they 
sang Welsh hymns, each man taking a part. The Welsh 
always sang when they were a bit frightened and pretending 
that they were not; it kept them steady. They never sang 
out of tune. 

We marched towards the flashes and could soon see the 
flare-lights curving over the trenches in the distance. The 
noise of the guns grew louder and louder. Then we were 
among the batteries. From behind us on the left of the road 
a salvo of four shells came suddenly over our heads. The 
battery was only about two hundred yards away. This 
broke up Aberystwyth in the middle of a verse and set us off 
our balance for a few seconds; the column of fours tangled 
up. The shells went hissing away eastward; we could see 
the red flash and hear the hollow bang where they landed 
in German territory. The men picked up their step again and 
began chaffing. A lance-corporal dictated a letter home: 
‘Dear auntie, this leaves me in the pink. We are at present 
wading in blood up to our necks. Send me fags and a life- 
belt. This war is a booger. Love and kisses.’ 

The roadside cottages were now showing more and more 
signs of dilapidation. A German shell came over and then 
whoo — 00 — ooooooOOO — bump - CRASH! twenty yards 
away from the party. We threw ourselves flat on our faces. 
Presently we heard a curious singing noise in the air, and 
then flop! flop! little pieces of shell-casing came buzzing 
down all around. ‘They calls them the musical instruments,’ 
said the sergeant. ‘Damn them,’ said Frank Jones-Bateman, 
who had a cut in his hand from a jagged little piece, ‘the 
devils have started on me early.’ ‘Aye, they’ll have a lot of 
fun with you before they’re done, sir,’ grinned the sergeant. 


Another shell came over. Every one threw himself down 
again, but it burst two hundred yards behind us. Only 
Sergeant Jones had remained on his feet and laughed at us, 
‘You’re wasting yourselves, lads,’ he said to the draft. 
‘Listen by the noise they make coming where they’re going 
to burst.’ 

At Cambrin village, which was about a mile from the front 
trenches, we were taken into a ruined house. It had been a 
chemist’s shop and the coloured glass lights were still in 
the window. It was the billet of the Welsh company quarter- 
master-sergeants. Here we were issued with gas-respirators 
and field dressings. This was the first respirator issued in 
France, It was a gauze-pad filled with chemically-treated 
cotton waste, to be tied across the mouth and nose. It seems 
it was useless against German gas. I never put it to the test. 
A week or two later came the ‘smoke-helmet,’ a greasy 
grey-felt bag with a talc window to look through, but no 
mouthpiece. This also was probably ineffective against gas. 
The talc was always cracking and there were leaks where it 
was stitched into the helmet. 

These were early days of trench-warfare, the days of the 
jam-tin bomb and the gas-pipe trench-mortar. It was before 
Lewis or Stokes guns, steel helmets, telescopic rifle-sights, 
gas-shells, pill-boxes, tanks, trench-raids, or any of the later 
improvements of trench-warfare. 

After a meal of bread, bacon, rum and bitter stewed tea 
sickly with sugar, we went up through the broken trees to 
the east of the village and up a long trench to battalion 
headquarters. The trench was cut through red clay. I had 
a torch with me which I kept flashed on the ground. Hun- 
dreds of field mice and frogs were in the trench. They had 
fallen in and had no way out. The light dazzled them and 


we could not help treading on them. So I put the torch back 
in my pocket. We had no picture of what the trenches 
would be like, and were not far off the state of mind in which 
one young soldier joined us a week or two later. He called 
out very excitedly to old Burford who was cooking up a bit 
of stew in a dixie, apart from the others: ‘Hi, mate, where’s 
the battle? I want to do my bit.’ 

The trench was wet and slippery. The guide was giving 
hoarse directions all the time. ‘Hole right.’ ‘Wire high.’ 
‘Wire low.’ ‘Deep place here, sir.’ ‘Wire low.’ I had never 
been told about the field telephone wires. They were 
fastened by staples to the side of the trench, and when it 
rained the staples were always falling out and the wire 
falling down and tripping people up. If it sagged too much 
one stretched it across the top of the trench to the other 
side to correct the sag, and then it would catch one’s head. 
The holes were the sump-pits used for draining the trenches. 
We were now under rifle-fire. I always found rifle-fire more 
trying than shell-fire. The gunner was usually, I knew, 
firing not at people but at map-references — cross-roads, 
likely artillery positions, houses that suggested billets for 
troops, and so on. Even when an observation officer in an 
aeroplane or captive balloon or on a church spire was 
directing the gun-fire it seemed unaimed, somehow. But a 
rifle bullet even when fired blindly always had the effect of 
seeming aimed. And we could hear a shell coming and take 
some sort of cover, but the rifle bullet gave no warning. So 
though we learned not to duck to a rifle bullet, because once 
it was heard it must have missed, it gave us a worse feeling 
of danger. Rifle bullets in the open went hissing into the 
grass without much noise, but when we were in a trench 
the bullets, going over the hollow, made a tremendous crack. 

Ch. XII 


Bullets often struck the barbed wire in front of the trenches, 
which turned them and sent them spinning in a head-over- 
heels motion -ping! rockety-ockety-ockety-ockety into the 
woods behind. 

Battalion headquarters was a dug-out in the reserve line 
about a quarter of a mile from the front companies. The 
colonel, a twice-wounded regular, shook hands with us and 
offered us the whisky bottle. He said that we were welcome, 
and hoped that we would soon grow to like the regiment 
as much as our own. It was a cosy dug-out for so early a 
stage of trench-warfare. (This sector had only recently been 
taken over from the French, who knew how to make them- 
selves comfortable. It had been a territorial division of men 
in the forties who had a local armistice with the Germans 
opposite; there was no firing and apparently even civilian 
traffic through the lines.) There was an ornamental lamp, 
a clean cloth, and polished silver on the table. The colonel, 
adjutant, doctor, second-in-command, and signalling officer 
were at dinner. It was civilized cooking, with fresh meat and 
vegetables. Pictures were pasted on the walls, which were 
wall-papered; there were beds with spring mattresses, a 
gramophone, easy chairs. It was hard to reconcile this with 
accounts I had read of troops standing waist-deep in mud 
and gnawing a biscuit while shells burst all around. We were 
posted to our companies. I went to C Company. ‘Captain 
Dunn is your company commander,’ said the adjutant. ‘The 
soundest officer in the battalion. By the way, remind him 
that I want that list of D.C.M. recommendations for the 
last show sent in at once, but not more than two names, or 
else they won’t give us any. Four is about the ration for the 
battalion in a dud show.’ 

Our guide took us up to the front line. We passed a group 


of men huddled over a brazier. They were wearing water- 
proof capes, for it had now started to rain, and cap-comforters, 
because the weather was cold. They were little men, daubed 
with mud, and they were talking quietly together in Welsh. 
Although they could see we were officers, they did not jump 
to their feet and salute. I thought that this was a convention 
of the trenches, and indeed I knew that it was laid down 
somewhere in the military textbooks that the courtesy of 
the salute was to be dispensed with in battle. But I was 
wrong; it was just slackness. We overtook a fatigue-party 
struggling up the trench loaded with timber lengths and 
bundles of sandbags, cursing plaintively as they slipped into 
sump-holes and entangled their burdens in the telephone 
wire. Fatigue-parties were always encumbered by their 
rifles and equipment, which it was a crime ever to have out 
of reach. When we had squeezed past this party we had to 
stand aside to let a stretcher-case past. ‘Who’s the poor 
bastard, Dai.?’ the guide asked the leading stretcher-bearer. 
‘Sergeant Gallagher,’ Dai answered. ‘He thought he saw a 
Fritz in No Man’s Land near our wire, so the silly b — r takes 
one of them new issue percussion bombs and shoots it at ’im. 
Silly b — r aims too low, it hits the top of the parapet and 
bursts back. Deoul! man, it breaks his silly f — ing jaw and 
blows a great lump from his silly f — ing face, whatever. Poor 
silly b — r! Not worth sweating to get him back! He’s put 
paid to, whatever.’ The wounded man had a sandbag over 
his face. He was dead when they got him back to the 
dressing-station. I was tired out by the time I got to company 
headquarters. I was carrying a pack-valise like the men, and 
my belt was hung with all the usual furnishings — revolver, 
field-glasses, compass, whisky-flask, wire-cutters, periscope, 
and a lot more. A Christmas-tree that was called. (These 


were the days in which officers went out to France with 
swords and had them sharpened by the armourer before 
sailing. But I had been advised to leave my sword back in 
the billet where we had tea; I never saw it again or bothered 
about it.) I was hot and sweaty; my hands were sticky with 
the clay from the side of the trench. C Company head- 
quarters was a two-roomed timber-built shelter in the side 
of a trench connecting the front and support lines. Here 
were tablecloth and lamp again, whisky-bottle and glasses, 
shelves with books and magazines, a framed picture of 
General Joffre, a large mirror, and bunks in the next room. 
I reported to the company commander. 

I had expected him to be a middle-aged man with a 
breastful of medals, with whom I would have to be formal; 
but Dunn was actually two months younger than myself. 
He was one of the fellowship of ‘only survivors.’ Captain 
Miller of the Black Watch in the same division was another. 
Miller had only escaped from the Rue du Bois massacre 
by swimming down a flooded trench. He has carried on his 
surviving trade ever since.^ Only sxirvivors have great 
reputations. Miller used to be pointed at in the streets 
when the battalion was back in reserve billets. ‘See that 
fellow. That’s Jock Miller. Out from the start and hasn’t 
got it yet.’ Dunn had not let the war affect his morale at all. 
He greeted me very easily with: ‘Well, what’s the news from 
England.? Oh sorry, first I must introduce you. This is 
Walker -clever chap, comes from Cambridge and fancies 
himself as an athlete. This is Jenkins, one of those patriotic 
chaps who chucked up his job to come here. This is Price, 
who only joined us yesterday, but we like him; he brought 

^ I do not know what happened to Miller. This was written in the 
summer of 1916. 


some damn good wliisky with him. Well, how long is the 
war going to last and who’s winning? We don’t know a thing 
out here. And what’s all this talk about war-babies? Price 
pretends he knows nothing about them.’ I told them about 
the war and asked them about the trenches. 

‘About trenches,’ said Dunn. Well, we don’t know as 
much about trenches as the French do and not near as much 
as Fritz does. We can’t expect Fritz to help, but the French 
might do something. They are greedy; they won’t let us 
have the benefit of their inventions. What wouldn’t we 
give for parachute-lights and their aerial torpedoesi But 
there’s no connection between the two armies except when 
there’s a battle on, and then we generally let each other 

‘When I was out here first, all that we did in the trenches 
was to paddle about in water and use our rifles. We didn’t 
think of them as places to live in, they were just temporary 
inconveniences. Now we work all the time we are here, 
not only for safety but for health. Night and day. First, the 
fire-steps, then building traverses, improving the communica- 
tion trenches, and so on; lastly, on our personal comfort — 
shelters and dug-outs. There was a territorial battalion that 
used to relieve us. They were hopeless. They used to sit 
down in the trench and say: “Oh my God, this is the limit.’’ 
They’d pull out pencil and paper and write home about it. 
Did no work on the traverses or on fire positions. Conse- 
quence — they lost half their men from frost-bite and 
rheumatism, and one day the Germans broke in and scuppered 
a lot more of them. They allowed the work we’d done in the 
trench to go to ruin and left the whole place like a sewage- 
farm for us to take over again. We were sick as muck. We 
reported them several times to brigade headquarters, but th^ 

Ch. XII 


never got any better. Slack officers, of course. Well, they 
got smashed, as I say, and were sent away to be lines-of- 
communication troops. Now we work with the First South 
Wales Borderers. They’re all right. Awful chaps those 
territorial swine. Usen’t to trouble about latrines at all; left 
food about and that encouraged rats; never filled a sandbag. 
I only once saw a job of work that they did. That was a 
steel loop-hole they put in. But they put it facing square 
to the front and quite unmasked, so they had two men killed 
at it — absolute death-trap. About our chaps. They’re all 
right, but not as right as they ought to be. The survivors 
of the show ten days ago are feeling pretty low, and the big 
new draft doesn’t know anything yet.’ 

‘Listen,’ said Walker, ‘there’s too much firing going on. 
The men have got the wind up over something. Waste of 
ammunition, and if Fritz knows we’re jumpy he’ll give us 
an extra bad time, -ril go up and stop them.’ 

Dunn went on. ‘These Welshmen are peculiar. They 
won’t stand being shouted at. They’ll do anything if you 
explain the reason for it. They will do and die, but they have 
to know their reason why. The best way to make them 
behave is not to give them too much time to think. Work 
them off their feet. They are good workmen. Officers must 
work too, not only direct the work. Our time-table is like 
this. Breakfast at eight o’clock in the morning, clean trenches 
and inspect rifles, work all morning; lunch at twelve, work 
again from one till about six, when the men feed again. 
“Stand-to” at dusk for about an hour, work all night, “stand- 
to” for an hour before dawn. That’s the general programme. 
Then there’s sentry duty. The men do two-hour sentry 
spells, then work two hours, then sleep two hours. At night 
sentries are doubled, so our working parties are smaller. 


We officers are on duty all day and divide up the night in 
three-hourly -watches,’ He looked at his wrist watch. ‘I say,’ 
he said, ‘that carrying-party must have got the R.E. stuff by 
now. Time we all got to work. Look here. Graves, you lie 
down and have a doss on that bunk. I want you to take the 
watch before “stand-to.” I’ll wake you up and show you 
round. Where the hell’s my revolver? I don’t like to go out 
without that. Hello, Walker, what was wrong?’ 

Walker laughed. ‘A chap from the new draft. He had 
never fired his musketry course at Cardiff, and to-night he 
fired ball for the first time. It seemed to go to his head. 
He’d had a brother killed up at Ypres and he said he was 
going to avenge him. So he blazed off all his own ammunition 
at nothing, and two bandoliers out of the ammunition-box 
besides. They call him the Human Maxim now. His fore- 
sight’s misty with heat. Corporal Parry should have stopped 
him; but he was just leaning up against the traverse and 
shrieking with laughter. I gave them both a good cursing. 
Some other new chaps started blazing away, too. Fritz 
retaliated with machine-guns and whizz-bangs. No casual- 
ties. I don’t know why. It’s all quiet now. Everybody 

They went out and I rolled up in my blanket and fell 
asleep. Dunn woke me about one o’clock. ‘Your watch,’ he 
said. I jumped out of the bunk with a rustle of straw; my 
feet were sore and clammy in my boots. I was cold, too. 
‘Here’s the rocket-pistol and a few flares. Not a bad night. 
It’s stopped raining. Put your equipment on over your rain- 
coat or you won’t be able to get at your revolver. Got a torch? 
Gk)od. About this flare business. Don’t use the pistol too 
much. We haven’t many flares, and if there’s an attack we 
■will want as many as we can get. But use it if you think 


that there is something doing. Fritz is always sending up 
flare lights, he’s got as many as he wants.’ 

He showed me round the line. The battalion frontage 
was about eight hundred yards. Each company held two 
hundred of these with two platoons in the front line and 
two platoons in the support line about a hundred yards back. 
Dunn introduced me to the platoon sergeants, more par- 
ticularly to Sergeant Eastmond of the platoon to which I 
was posted. He asked Sergeant Eastmond to give me any 
information that I wanted, then went back to sleep, telling 
me to wake him up at once if anything was wrong. I was left 
in charge of the line. Sergeant Eastmond was busy with a 
working-party, so I went round by myself. The men of the 
working-party, who were building up the traverses with 
sandbags (a traverse, I learned, was a safety-buttress in the 
trench), looked curiously at me. They were filling sandbags 
with earth, piling them up bricklayer fashion, with headers 
and stretchers alternating, then patting them flat with spades. 
The sentries stood on the fire-step at the corners of the 
traverses, stamping their feet and blowing on their fingers. 
Every now and then they peered over the top for a few 
seconds. Two parties, each of an N.C.O. and two men, 
were out in the company listening-posts, connected with the 
front trench by a sap about fifty yards long. The German 
front line was about three hundred yards beyond them. 
From berths hollowed in the sides of the trench and curtained 
with sandbags came the grunt of sleeping men. 

I jumped up on the fire-step beside the sentry and 
cautiously raising my head stared over the parapet. I could 
see nothing except the wooden pickets supporting our 
protecting barbed-wire entanglement and a dark patch or 
two of bushes beyond. The darkness seemed to move and 


shake about as I looked at it; the bushes started travelling, 
singly at first, then both together. The pickets were doing 
the same. I was glad of the sentry beside me; his name, he 
told me, was Beaumont. ‘They’re quiet to-night, sir,’ he 
said, ‘a relief going on; I think so, surely.’ I said: ‘It’s 
funny how those bushes seem to move.’ ‘Aye, they do play 
queer tricks. Is this your first spell in trenches, sir?’ A 
German flare shot up, broke into bright flame, dropped 
slowly and went hissing into the grass just behind our 
trench, showing up the bushes and pickets. Instinctively 
I moved. ‘It’s bad to do that, sir,’ he said, as a rifle bullet 
cracked and seemed to pass right between us. ‘Keep still, 
sir, and they can’t spot you. Not but what a flare is a bad 
thing to have fall on you. I’ve seen them burn a hole in a 

I spent the rest of my watch in acquainting myself with 
the geography of the trench-section, finding how easy it 
was to get lost" among culs de sac and disused alleys. Twice 
I overshot the company frontage and wandered among the 
Munsters on the left. Once I tripped and fell with a splash 
into deep mud. At last my watch was ended with the first 
signs of dawn. I passed the word along the line for the 
company to stand-to arms. The N.C.O’s whispered hoarsely 
into the dug-outs: ‘Stand-to, stand-to,’ and out the men 
tumbled with their rifles in their hands. As I went towards 
company headquarters to wake the officers I saw a man 
lying on his face in a machine-gun shelter. I stopped and 
said: ‘Stand-to, there.’ I flashed my torch on him and saw 
that his foot was bare. The machine-gunner beside him 
said: ‘No good talking to him, sir.’ I asked: ‘What’s wrong? 
What’s he taken his boot and sock off for?’ I was ready for 
anything odd in the trenches. ‘Look for yourself, sir,’ he 

Ct. XII 


said. I shook the man by the arm and noticed suddenly that 
the back of his head was blown out. The first corpse that 
I saw in France was this suicide. He had taken off his boot 
and sock to pull the trigger of his rifle with his toe; the 
muzzle was in his mouth. ‘Why did he do it.?’ I said. 
‘He was in the last push, sir, and that sent him a bit queer, 
and on top of that he got bad news from Limerick about his 
girl and another chap.’ He was not a Welshman, but 
belonged to the Munsters; their machine-guns were at the 
extreme left of our company. The suicide had already been 
reported and two Irish ofiicers came up. ‘We’ve had two or 
three of these lately,’ one of them told me. Then he said 
to the other: ‘While I remember, Callaghan, don’t forget to 
write to his next-of-kin. Usual sort of letter, cheer them up, 
tell them he died a soldier’s death, anything you like. I’m 
not going to report it as suicide.’ 

At stand-to rum and tea were served out. I had a look at 
the German trenches through a periscope -a streak of 
sandbags four hundred yards away. Some of these were 
made of coloured stuff, whether for camouflage or from a 
shortage of plain carivas I do not know. There was no sign 
of the enemy, except for a wisp or two of wood-smoke where 
they, too, were boiling up a hot drink. Between us and 
them was a flat meadow with cornflowers, marguerites and 
poppies growing in the long grass, a few shell holes, the 
bushes I had seen the night before, the wreck of an aeroplane, 
our barbed wire and theirs. A thousand yards away was a 
big ruined house, behind that a red-brick village (Auchy), 
poplars and haystacks, a tall chimney, another village 
(Haisnes). Half-right was a pithead and smaller slag-heaps. 
La Bass6e lay half-left; the sun caught the weathervane of 
the church and made it twinkle. 


I went off for a sleep. The time between stand-to and 
breakfast was the easy part of the day. The men who were 
not getting in a bit of extra sleep sat about talking and 
smoking, writing letters home, cleaning their rifles, running 
their thumb-nails up the seams of their shirts to kill the lice, 
gambling. Lice were a standing joke. Young Bumford 
handed me one like this. ‘We was just having an argument 
as to whether it was best to kill the old ones or the young 
ones, sir. Morgan here says that if you kill the old ones, 
the young ones will die of grief, but Parry here, sir, he says 
that the young ones are easier to kill and you can catch the 
old ones when they come to the funeral.’ He appealed to me 
as an arbiter. ‘You’ve been to college, sir, haven’t you?’ 
I said: ‘Yes, I had, but so had Crawshay Bailey’s brother 
Norwich.’ This was held to be a wonderfully witty answer. 
Crawshay Bailey is one of the idiotic songs of Wales. 
(Crawshay Bailey himself ‘had an engine and he couldn’t 
make it go,’ and all his relations in the song had similar 
shortcomings. Crawshay Bailey’s brother Norwich, for 
instance, was fond of oatmeal porridge, and was sent to 
Cardiff College, for to get a bit of knowledge.) After that 
I had no trouble with the platoon at all. 

Breakfast at company headquarters was bacon, eggs, 
coffee, toast and marmalade. There were three chairs and 
two ammunition-boxes to sit on. Accustomed to company 
commanders in England not taking their junior ofKcers into 
their confidence, I was struck by the way that questions of 
the day were settled at meal-times by a sort of board-meeting 
with Dunn as chairman. On this first morning there was a 
long debate as to the best way of keeping sentries awake. 
Dunn finally decided to issue a company order against 
sentries leaning up against the traverse; it made them 


sleepy. Besides, when they fired their rifles the flash would 
come always from the same place. The Germans might 
fix a rifle on the spot after a time. I told Dunn of the bullet 
that came between Beaumont and myself. ‘Sounds like a 
fixed rifle,’ he said, ‘because not one aimed shot in a hundred 
comes as close as that at night. And we had a chap killed 
in that very traverse the night we came in.’ The Bavarian 
Guards Reserve were opposite us at the time and their 
shooting was good. They had complete control of the 
sniping situation. 

Dunn began telling me the characters of the men in my 
platoon; also which N.C.O.’s were trustworthy and which 
had to be watched. He was going on to tell me just how 
much to expect from the men at my platoon inspection of 
rifles and equipment, when there was a sudden alarm. 
Dunn’s servant came rushing in, his eyes blank with horror 
and excitement; ‘Gas, sir, gas! They’re using gas.’ ‘My 
God!’ said Price. We all looked at Dunn. He said im- 
perturbably; ‘Very well. Kingdom, bring me my respirator 
from the other room, and another pot of marmalade.’ This 
was only one of many gas alarms. It originated with smoke 
from the German trenches where breakfast was also going 
on; we knew the German meal-times by a slackening down 
of rifle-fire. Gas was a nightmare. Nobody believed in the 
efficacy of the respirators, though we were told that they 
were proof against any gas the enemy could send over. Pink 
army forms marked ‘Urgent’ were constantly arriving from 
headquarters to explain how to use these contrivances. They 
were all contradictory. First the respirators were to be 
kept soaking wet, then they were to be kept dry, then they 
were to be worn in a satchel, then, again, the satchel was not 
to be used. 

Ch. XII 



Frank Jones-Bateman came to visit me from the company 
on our right. He mentioned with a false ease that he had 
shot a man just before breakfast: ‘Sights at four hundred,’ 
he said. He was a quiet boy of nineteen. He had just left 
Rugby and had a scholarship waiting for him at Clare, 
Cambridge. His nickname was ‘Silent Night.’ 


Here are extracts from letters that I wrote at this 

list May 1915. -Back in billets again at a coal-mining 
village called La Bourse. It is not more than three miles 
and a half from the trenches, but the mines are still working. 
As we came out of the trenches the Germans were shelling 
the wood by Cambrin village, searching for one of our 
batteries. I don’t think they got it, but it was fun to see the 
poplar trees being lopped down like tulips when the whizz- 
bangs hit them square. When we marched along the pavi 
road from Cambrin the men straggled about out of step and 
out of fours. Their feet were sore from having had their 
boots on for a week — they only have one spare pair of socks 
issued to them. I enclose a list of their minimum load, 
which weighs about sixty pounds. A lot of extras get put on 
top of this - rations, pick or shovel, periscope, and their 
own souvenirs to take home on leave : 

Greatcoat . . i 

Tin, mess . . i 

„ cover I 

Shirt ... I 

Socks, pair . . i 

Soap ... I 

Towel ... I 

Housewife . . i 

Holdall . . . i 

Razor . . . i 

„ case . . I 

Cardigan . . . . i 

Cap, fatigue comforter, i 
Pay-book . . . . i 

Disc, identity . . . i 

Waterproof sheet . . i 

Tin of grease . . . i 

Field-service dressing . i 
Respirator . . . . i 

Spine protector . . i 

Jack knife . . . . i 

Set of equipment. 


Ct. xin 



Lather brush . i Rounds ammunition 150 
Comb ... I Rifle and bayonet. 

Fork ... I Rifle cover . . . . i 

Knife . . . i Oil bottle and pull- 

Spoon ... I through. 

Tooth brush . i Entrenching tool . . i 

Laces, pair . . i 

Well, anyhow, marching on cobbled roads is difiicult, 
so when a staff^-officer came by in a Rolls-Royce and cursed 
us for bad march-discipline I felt like throwing something 
at him. Trench soldiers hate the staff and the staff know it. 
The principal disagreement seems to be about the extent to 
which trench conditions should modify discipline. The La 
Bourse miners are old men and boys dressed in sloppy blue 
clothes with bulging pockets. There are shell craters all 
around the pit-head. I am billeted with a fatherly old 
man called Monsieur Hojd^s, who has three marriage- 
able daughters; one of them lifted up her skirt to show 
me a shell-wound on her thigh that laid her up last 

1^nd May. — A colossal bombardment by the French at 
Souchez, a few miles away - continuous roar of artillery, 
coloured flares, shells bursting all along the ridge by Notre 
Dame de Lorette. I couldn’t sleep. It went on all night. 
Instead of dying away it grew and grew till the whole air 
rocked and shook; the sky was lit up with huge flashes. 
I lay in my feather bed and sweated. This morning they tell 
me there was a big thunderstorm in the middle of the bom- 
bardment. But, as Walker says: ‘Where the gunder ended 
and the thunder began was hard to say.’ The men had hot 


baths at the mines and cleaned up generally. Their rifles 
are all in an advanced state of disrepair and many of their 
clothes are in rags, but neither can be replaced, we are told, 
until they are much worse. The platoon is billeted in a barn 
full of straw. Old Burford, who is so old that he refuses to 
sleep with the other men of the platoon, has found a doss in 
an out-building among some farm tools. In trenches he will 
sleep on the fire-step even in the rain rather than in a warm 
dug-out with the other men. He says that he remembers 
the C.O. when he was in long skirts. Young Bumford is 
the only man he’ll talk to. The platoon is always ragging 
Bumford for his childish simplicity. Bumford plays up to 
it and begs them not to be too hard on ‘a lad from the 

lyd May. - We did company drill in the morning. After- 
wards Jones-Bateman and I lay on the warm grass and 
watched the aeroplanes flying above the trenches pursued 
by a trail of white shrapnel puffs. In the evening I was 
detailed to take out a working-party to Vermelles les 
Noyelles to work on a second line of defence - trench 
digging and putting up barbed wire under an R.E. 
officer. But the ground was hard and the men were tired 
out when they got back about two o’clock in the morning. 
They sang songs all the way home. They have one about 
Company Quartermaster-Sergeant Finnigan: 

Coolness under fire, 

Coolness under fire. 

Mentioned in dispatches 

For pinching the company rations, 

Coolness under fire. 




Now he’s on the peg, 

Now he’s on the peg, 

Mentioned in dispatches 
For drinking the company rum. 

Now he’s on the peg. 

The chorus is: 

Whiter than the milky cokernuts, 

Whiter than the milky cokernuts, 

Wash me in the water 
That you washed your dirty daughter in 
And I shall be whiter than the milky cokernuts. 


Oooooh nuts. 

Finnigan doesn’t mind the libel at all. 

This is what happened the othel- day. Two young miners, 
in another company, disliked their sergeant, who had a down 
on them and gave them all the most dirty and dangerous jobs. 
When they were in billets he crimed them for things they 
hadn’t done. So they decided to kill him. Later they 
reported at Battalion Orderly Room and asked to see the 
adjutant. This was irregular, because a private is not allowed 
to speak to an officer without an N.C.O. of his own company 
to act as go-between. The adjutant happened to see them 
and said: ‘Well, what is it you want?’ Smartly slapping the 
small-of-the-butt of their sloped rifles they said: ‘We’ve 
come to report, sir, that we are very sorry but we’ve shot our 
company sergeant-major.’ The adjutant said: ‘Good heavens, 
how did that happen?’ They answered: ‘It was an accident, 

Ch. xm 


sir.’ ‘What do you mean? Did you mistake him for a 
German?’ ‘No, sir, we mistook him for our platoon sergeant.’ 
So they were both shot by a firing squad of their own com- 
pany against the wall of a convent at B^thune. Their last 
words were the battalion rallying-cry: ‘Stick it, the Welshl’ 
(They say that a certain Captain Haggard first used it in the 
battle of Ypres when he was mortally wounded.) The French 
military governor was present at the execution and made a 
little speech saying how gloriously British soldiers can die. 

You would be surprised at the amount of waste that goes 
on in trenches. Ration biscuits are in general use as fuel for 
boiling up dixies, because fuel is scarce. Our machine-gun 
crews boil their hot water by firing off belt after belt of 
machine-gun ammunition at no particular target, just gener- 
ally spraying the German line. After several pounds’ worth 
of ammunition has been used, the water in the guns — they 
are water-cooled - begins to boil. They say they make 
German ration and carrying parties behind the line pay for 
their early-morning cup of tea. But the real charge will be 
on income-tax after the war. 

24th May. — To-morrow we return to trenches. The men 
are pessimistic but cheerful. They all talk about getting a 
‘cushy’ one to send them back to ‘Blitey.’ Blitey is, it seems, 
Hindustani for ‘home.’ My servant. Fry, who works in a 
paper-bag factory at Cardiff in civil life, has been telling me 
stories about cushy ones. Here are two of them. ‘A bloke in 
the Munsters once wanted a cushy, so he waves his hand 
above the parapet to catch Fritz’s attention. Nothing doing. 
He waves his arms about for a couple of minutes. Nothing 
doing, not a shot. He puts his elbows on the fire-step, hoists 
his body upside down and waves his legs about till he get 
blood to the head. Not a shot did old Fritz fire. “Oh,” says 


the Munster man, “I don’t believe there’s a damn square- 
head there. Where’s the German army to?” He has a peek 
over the top — crack! he gets it in the head. Finee.’ Another 
story: ‘Bloke in the Camerons wanted a cushy bad. Fed up 
and far from home, he was. He puts his hand over the top 
and gets his trigger finger taken off, and two more beside. 
That done the trick. He comes laughing through our lines 
by the old boutillery. “See, lads,” he says, “I’m aff to bony 
Scotland. Is it na a beauty.''” But on the way down the trench 
to the dressing-station he forgets to stoop low where the old 
sniper was working. He gets it through the head too. Finee. 
We laugh fit to die.’ 

[To get a cushy one is all that the old hands think of. 
Only twelve men have been with the battalion from the 
beginning and they are all transport men except one, 
Beaumont, a man in my platoon. The few old hands who 
went through the last fight infect the new men with pessim- 
ism; they don’t believe in the war, they don’t believe in the 
staff. But at least they would follow their officers anywhere, 
because the officers happen to be a decent lot. They look 
forward to a battle because a battle gives more chances of a 
cushy one, in the legs or arms, than trench warfare. In 
trench warfare the proportion of head wounds is much 
greater. Haking commands this division. He’s the man who 
wrote the standard textbook. Company Training, The last 
shows have not been suitable ones for company commanders 
to profit by his directions. He’s a decent man; he came roimd 
this morning to an informal inspection of the battalion and 
shook hands with the survivors. There were tears in his 
eyes. Sergeant Smith swore half-aloud: ‘Bloody lot of use 
that is, busts up his bloody division and then weeps over 
what’s bloody left.’ Well, it was nothing to do with me; 

Ch. XII 


I didn’t allow myself to feel either for the general or for the 
sergeant. It is said here that Haking has told General French 
that the division’s morale has gone completely. So far as 
I can see that is not accurate; the division will fight all right 
but without any enthusiasm. It is said too that when the 
new army comes out the division will be withdrawn and used 
on lines of communication for some months at least. I don’t 
believe it. I am sure no one will mind smashing up over 
and over again the divisions that are used to being smashed 
up. The general impression here is that the new-army 
divisions can’t be of much military use. 

i%th May. — In trenches among the Cuinchy brick-stacks. 
Not my idea of trenches. There has been a lot of fighting 
hereabouts. The trenches have made themselves rather than 
been made, and run inconsequently in and out of the big 
thirty-foot high stacks of brick; it is most confusing. The 
parapet of one of the trenches which we do not occupy is 
built up with ammunition-boxes and corpses. Everything 
here is wet and smelly. The lines are very close. The 
Germans have half the brick-stacks and we have the other 
half. Each side snipes down from the top of its brick-stacks 
into the other’s trenches. This is also a great place for rifle- 
grenades and trench-mortars. We can’t reply properly to 
these; we have only a meagre supply of rifle-grenades and 
nothing to equal the German sausage mortar bomb. This 
morning about breakfast time, just as I came out of my 
dug-out, a rifle-grenade landed within six feet of me. For 
some reason, instead of falling on its head and exploding, it 
landed with its stick in the wet clay and stood there looking 
at me. They are diflicult to see coming; they are shot from 
a rifle, with its butt on the ground, tilted, and go up a long 
way before they turn over and come down. I can’t under- 





stand why this particular rifle-grenade fell as it did; the 
chances were impossibly against it. 

Sausages are easy to see and dodge, but they make a 
terrible noise when they drop. We have had about ten 
casualties in our company to-day from them. I find that I 
have extraordinarily quick reactions to danger; but every one 
gets like that. We can sort out all the different explosions 
and disregard all the ones that don’t concern us — the artillery 
duel, machine-gun fire at the next company to us, desultory 
rifle-fire. But the faint plop! of the mortar that sends oflf the 
sausage or the muffled rifle noise when a grenade is fired, we 
pick out at once. The men are much afraid, yet always 
joking. The company sergeant-major stands behind Number 
Eleven brick-stack and shoots at the sausages with a rifle as 
they come over; trying to explode them in the air. He 
says that it’s better than pigeon-shooting. He hasn’t hit one 
yet. Last night a lot of stuff was flying about, including 
shrapnel. I heard one shell whish-whishing towards me. 
I dropped flat. It burst just over the trench. My ears sang 
as though there were gnats in them and a bright scarlet light 
shone over everything. My shoulder was twisted in falling 
and I thought I had been hit, but I hadn’t been. The 
vibration made my chest sing, too, in a curious way, and I 
lost my sense of equilibrium. I was much ashamed when 
the sergeant-major came along the trench and found me on 
all fours, because I couldn’t stand up straight. It was at 
a place where ‘Petticoat Lane’ runs into ‘Lowndes Square.’ 

There has been a dead man lying on the fire-step waiting 
to be taken down to the cemetery to-night. He was a 
sanitary-man, killed last night in the open while burying 
lavatory stuff between our front and support lines. His 
arm was stretched out and, when he was got in, it was still 


stiff, so that when they put him on the fire-step'his stiff arm 
stretched right across the trench. His comrades joke as they 
push it out of the way to get by. ‘Out of the light, you old 
bastard. Do you own this bloody trench?’ Or they shake 
hands with him familiarly. ‘Put it there, Billy Boy.’ Of 
course, they’re miners and accustomed to death. They have 
a very limited morality, but they keep to it. They will, for 
instance, rob anyone, of anything, except a man in their own 
platoon; they will treat every stranger as an enemy until he 
is proved their friend, and then there is nothing they won’t 
do for him. They are lecherous, the young ones at least, but 
without the false shame of the English lecher. I had a letter 
to censor the other day written by a lance-corporal to his 
wife. He said that the French girls were nice to sleep with, 
so she mustn’t worry on his account, but that he far preferred 
sleeping with her and missed her a great deal. 

June. — We have been billeted in B6thune, a fair-sized 
town about seven miles or so behind the front line. There 
is everything one wants, a swimming bath, all sorts of shops, 
especially a cake-shop, the best I’ve ever met, a hotel where 
you can get a really good dinner, and a theatre where we 
have brigade ‘gaffs.’ I saw a notice this morning on a build- 
ing by the B^thune-La Bass^e canal — ‘Troops are forbidden 
to bomb fish. By order of the Town Major.’ Bethune is 
very little knocked about, except a part called Faubourg 
d’ Arras, near the station. I am billeted with a family called 
Averlant Paul, in the Avenue de Bruay, people of the official 
class. They are refugees from Poimbert. There are two little 
boys and an elder sister, who is in what corresponds with 
the under-fifth of the local high-school. She was worried 
last night over her lessons and asked me to help her write 
out the theory of decimal division. She showed me the notes AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 155 

she had taken; they were full of abbreviations. I asked why 
she’d used abbreviations. She said: ‘The lady professor 
talked very fast because we were much hurried.’ ‘Why were 
you hurried?’ ‘Oh, because part of the school is used as a 
billet for the troops and the Germans were shelling it, and 
we were always having to take shelter in the cellar, and 
when we came back each time there was less and less time 

<^th June. — I am beginning to realize how lucky I was in 
my gentle introduction to the trenches at Cambrin. We are 
now in a nasty salient a little to the south of the brick-stacks, 
where casualities are always heavy. The company had 
seventeen casualities yesterday from bombs and grenades. 
The front trench averages thirty yards from the Germans. 
To-day, at one part, which is only twenty yards away from 
an occupied German sap, I came along whistling The 
Farmer's Boy, to keep up my spirits, when suddenly I saw 
a group bending over a man lying at the bottom of the 
trench. He was making a snoring noise mixed with animal 
groans. At my feet was the cap he had worn, splashed with 
his brains. I had never seen human brains before; I had 
somehow regarded them as a poetical figment. One can 
joke with a badly-wounded man and congratulate him on 
being out of it. One can disregard a dead man. But even a 
miner can’t make a joke that sounds like a joke over a man 
who takes three hours to die after the top part of his head 
has been taken off by a bullet fired at twenty yards range. 
Beaumont, of whom I told you in my last letter, was also 
killed. He was the last unwoimded survivor of the original 
battalion, except for the transport men. He had his legs blown 
against his back. Every one was swearing angrily, then an 
R.E. officer came up and told me that there was a tunnel 


driven under the German front line and that if we wanted 
to do a bit of bombing, now was the time. So he sent the 
mine up - it was not a big one, he said, but it made a 
tremendous noise and covered us with dirt - and the chaps 
waited for a few seconds for the other Germans to rush up 
to help the wounded away and then they chucked all the 
bombs they had. 

Beaumont had been telling me how he had won about 
five pounds in the sweepstake after the Rue du Bois show. 
It was a sweepstake of the sort that leaves no bitterness 
behind it. Before a show the platoon pools all its available 
cash and the winners, who are the survivors, divide it up 
afterwards. Those who are killed can’t complain, the 
wounded would have given far more than that to escape as 
they have, and the unwounded regard the money as a 
consolation prize for still being here. 

i\th ’June, - We are billeted in the cellars of Vermelles, 
which was taken and re-taken eight times last October. 
There is not a single house undamaged in the place. I 
suppose it once had two or three thousand inhabitants. It 
is beautiful now in a fantastic way. We came up two nights 
ago; there was a moon shining behind the houses and 
the shells had broken up all the hard lines. Next morning 
we found the deserted gardens of the town very pleasant to 
walk about in; they are quite overgrown and flowers have 
seeded themselves about wildly. Red cabbages and roses 
and madonna lilies are the chief ornaments. There is one 
garden with currant bushes in it. I and the company sergeant- 
major started eating along the line towards each other without 
noticing each other. When we did, we both remembered 
our dignity, he as a company sergeant-major and I as an 
ofBcer. He saluted, I asknowledged the salute, we both 


walked away. After a minute or two we both came back 
hoping the coast was clear and again, after an exchange of 
salutes, had to leave the currants and pretend that we were 
merely admiring the flowers. I don’t quite know why I was 
feeling like that. The company sergeant-major was a 
regular and it was natural in him, and I suppose that it was 
courtesy to his scruples that made me stop. Anyhow, along 
came a couple of privates and stripped the bushes clean. 

This afternoon we had a cricket match, officers versus 
sergeants, in an enclosure between some houses out of 
observation from the enemy. The front line is perhaps three 
quarters of a mile away. I made top score, twenty-four; the 
bat was a bit of a rafter, the ball was a piece of rag tied round 
with string, and the wicket was a parrot cage with the grisly 
remains of a parrot inside. It had evidently died of starvation 
when the French evacuated the town. The corpse was 
perfectly clean and dry and I recalled a verse of Skelton’s: 

Parrot is a fair bird for a ladie. 

God of His goodness him framed and wrought. 

When parrot is dead he doth not putrify, 

Yea, all things mortal shall turn unto nought 
Save mannSs soul which Christ so dear bought. 

That never can die, nor never die shall. 

Make much of parrot, that popajay royal. 

The match was broken up suddenly by machine-gun fire. 
It was not aimed at us; the Germans were shooting at one 
of our aeroplanes and the bullets falling down from a great 
height had a penetrative power greater than an ordinary 
spent bullet. 

This is a very idle life except for night-digging on the 


reserve line. By day there is nothing to do. We can’t drill 
because it is too near the German lines, and there is no 
fortification work to be done in the village. To-day two 
spies were shot. A civilian who had hung on in a cellar and 
had, apparently, been flashing news, and a German soldier 
disguised as an R.E. corporal who was found tampering 
with the telephone wires. We officers spend a lot of time 
practising revolver-shooting. Jenkins brought out a beautiful 
target from the only undestroyed living-room in our billet 
area. It was a glass case full of artificial fruit and flowers, so 
we put it up on a post at fifty yards range. He said: ‘I’ve 
always wanted to smash one of these damn things. My aunt 
had one. It’s the sort of thing that would survive an intense 
bombardment.’ For a moment I felt a tender impulse to 
rescue it. But I smothered it. So we had five shots each, in 
turn. Nobody could hit it. So at last we went up to within 
twenty yards of it and fired a volley. Someone hit the post 
and that knocked it off into the grass. Jenkins said: ‘Damn 
the thing, it must be bewitched. Let’s take it back.’ The 
glass was unbroken, but some of the fruit had come loose. 
Walker said: ‘No, it’s in pain; we must put it out of its 
suffering.’ He gave it the coup de grdce from close quarters. 

There is an old Norman church here, very much broken. 
What is left of the tower is used as a forward observation 
post by the artillery. I counted eight unexploded shells 
sticking into it. I went in with Jenkins; the floor was littered 
with rubbish, broken masonry, smashed chairs, ripped 
canvas pictures (some of them look several hundreds of years 
old), bits of images and crucifixes, muddied church vest- 
ments rotting in what was once the vestry. Only a few pieces 
of stained glass remained fixed in the edges of the windows. 
I climbed up by way of the altar to the east window and 


found a piece about the size of a plate. I gave it to Jenkins. 
‘Souvenir/ I said. When he held it up to the light it was 
St. Peter’s hand with the keys of heaven; medieval glass. 
‘Fm sending this home/ he said. As we went out we met 
two men of the Munsters, They were Irish Catholics. They 
thought it sacrilegious for Jenkins to be taking the glass 
away. One of them said: ‘Shouldn’t take that, sir; it will 
bring you no luck.’ ^ 

Walker was ragging Dunn this evening. ‘I believe you’ll 
be sorry when the war’s over, skipper. Your occupation 
will be gone and you’ll have to go back on the square at the 
depot for six months and learn how to form fours regiment- 
ally. You missed that little part of the show when you left 
Sandhurst and came straight here. You’ll be a full colonel 
by then, of course. I’ll give the sergeant-major half a crown 
to make you really sweat. I’ll be standing in civvies at the 
barrack-gate laughing at you.’ 

There is a company commander here called Furber. 
His nerves are in pieces, and somebody played a dirty joke 
on him the other day — rolling a bomb, undetonated, of 
course, down the cellar steps to frighten him. This was 
thought a great joke. Furber is the greatest pessimist out 
here. He’s laid a bet with the adjutant that the trench lines 
will not be more than a mile from where they are in this 
sector two years hence. Every one laughs at Furber, but 
they like him because he sings sentimental cockney songs 
at the brigade gaffs when we are back at Bethune. 

^ Jenkins was killed not long after. 


Now as the summer advanced there came new types of 
bombs and trench-mortars, heavier shelling, improved gas- 
masks and a general tightening up of discipline. We saw 
the first battalions of the new army and felt like scarecrows 
by comparison. We went in and out of the Cambrin and 
Cuinchy trenches, with billets in B^thune and the neighbour- 
ing villages. By this time I had caught the pessimism of the 
division. Its spirit in the trenches was largely defensive; 
the policy was not to stir the Germans into more than their 
usual hostility. But casualties were still very heavy for 
trench warfare. Pessimism made everyone superstitious. 
I became superstitious too: I found myself believing in 
signs of the most trivial nature. Sergeant Smith, my second 
sergeant, told me of my predecessor in command of the 
platoon. ‘He was a nice gentleman, sir, but very wild. Just 
before the Rue du Bois show he says to me: “By the way, 
sergeant, I’m going to get killed to-morrow. I know that. 
And I know that you’re going to be all right. So see that 
my kit goes back to my people. You’ll find their address in 
my pocket-book. You’ll find five hundred francs there too. 
Now remember this, Sergeant Smith, you keep a hundred 
francs yourself and divide up the rest among the chaps left.” 
He says: “Send my pocket-book back with my other stuff. 
Sergeant Smith, but for God’s sake burn my diary. They 
mustn’t see that. I’m going to get it He points to his 
forehead. And that’s how it was. He got it through the 
forehead all right. I sent the stuff back to his parents. I 
divided up the money and I burnt the diary.’ 

One day I was walking along a trench at Cambrin when 
I suddenly dropped flat on my face; two seconds later a 


Ch. xiT 



whizz-bang struck the back of the trench exactly where I 
had been. The sergeant who was with me, walking a few 
steps ahead, rushed back: ‘Are you killed, sir?’ The shell 
was fired from a battery near Auchy only a thousand yards 
away, so that it must have arrived before the sound of the 
gun. How did I know that I should throw myself on my 

I saw a ghost at B^thune. He was a man called Private 
Challoner who had been at Lancaster with me and again in 
F company at Wrexham. When he went out with a draft 
to join the First Battalion he shook my hand and said: ‘I’ll 
meet you again in France, sir.’ He had been killed at 
Festubert in May and in June he passed by our C Company 
billet where we were just having a special dinner to celebrate 
our safe return from Cuinchy. There was fish, new potatoes, 
green peas, asparagus, mutton chops, strawberries and 
cream, and three bottles of Pommard. Challoner looked in 
at the window, saluted and passed on. There was no mistak- 
ing him or the cap-badge he was wearing. There was no 
Royal Welch battalion billeted within miles of B6thune at 
the time. I jumped up and looked out of the window, but 
saw nothing except a fag-end smoking on the pavement. 
Ghosts were numerous in France at the time. 

There was constant mining going on in this Cambrin- 
Cuinchy sector. We had the prospect of being blown up at 
any moment. An officer of the R.E. tunnelling company 
was awarded the Victoria Cross while we were here. A duel 
of mining and counter-mining was going on. The Germans 
began to undermine his original boring, so he rapidly 
tunnelled underneath them. It was touch and go who would 
get the mine ready first. He won. But when he detonated 
it from the trench by an electric lead, nothing happened. He 

i62 good-bye to all THAT CLxiv 

ran down again into the mine, retamped the charge, and was 
just back in time to set it off before the Germans. I had 
been into the upper boring on the previous day. It was about 
twenty feet under the German lines. At the end of the gallery 
I found a Welsh miner, one of our own men who had trans- 
ferred to the Royal Engineers, on listening duty. He 
cautioned me to silence. I could distinctly hear the Germans 
working somewhere underneath. He whispered: ‘So long as 
they work, I don’t mind; it’s when they stop.’ He did his 
two-hour spell by candle-light. It was very stuffy. He was 
reading a book. The mining officer had told me that they 
were allowed to read; it didn’t interfere with their listening. 
It was a paper-backed novelette called From Mill Girl to 
Duchess. The men of the tunnelling companies were notori- 
ous thieves, by the way. They would snatch things up from 
the trench and scurry off with them into their borings; just 
like mice. 

After one particularly bad spell of trenches I got bad news 
In a letter from Charterhouse. Bad news in the trenches 
might affect a man in either of two ways. It might drive 
him to suicide (or recklessness amounting to suicide), or 
it might seem trivial in comparison with present experiences 
and be disregarded. But unless his leave was due he was 
helpless. A year later, when I was in trenches in the same 
sector, an officer of the North Staffordshire Regiment had 
news from home that his wife was living with another man. 
He went out on a raid the same night and was either killed 
or captured; so the men with him said. There had been a 
fight and they had come back without him. Two days later 
he was arrested at Bethune trying to board a leave-train to 
go home; he had intended to shoot up the wife and her lover. 
He was court-martialled for deserting in the face of the enemy. 


but the court was content to cashier him. He went as a 
private soldier to another regiment. I do not know what 
happened afterwards. 

The bad news was about Dick, saying that he was not at 
all the innocent sort of fellow I took him for. He was as 
bad as anyone could be. The letter was written by a cousin 
of mine who was still at Charterhouse. I tried not to believe 
it. I remembered that he owed me a grudge and decided 
that this was a very cruel act of spite. Dick’s letters had 
been my greatest stand-by all these months when I was 
feeling low; he wrote every week, mostly about poetry. 
They were something solid and clean to set off against the 
impermanence of trench life and the uncleanness of sex-life 
in billets. I was now back in Bethune. Two officers of 
another company had just been telling me how they had 
slept, in the same room, one with the mother and one with 
the daughter. They had tossed for the mother because the 
daughter was a ‘yellow-looking little thing like a lizard.’ 
And the Red Lamp, the army brothel, was round the corner 
in the main street. I had seen a queue of a hundred and 
fifty men waiting outside the door, each to have his short 
turn with one or the other of the three women in the house. 
My servant, who had been in the queue, told me that the 
charge was ten francs a man — about eight shillings at that 
time. Each woman served nearly a battalion of men every 
week for as long as she lasted. The assistant provost-marshal 
had told me that three weeks was the usual limit, ‘after which 
the woman retires on her earnings, pale but proud.’ I was 
always being teased because I would not sleep even with the 
nicer girls. And I excused myself, not on moral grounds or 
on grounds of fastidiousness, but in the only way they could 
understand; I said that I didn’t want a dose. A good deal 

i 64 good-bye to ALL THAT CL xiv 

of talk in billets was about the peculiar bed-manners of the 
French women. ‘She was very nice and full of games. I said 
to her: “S’il vous plait, 6tes-toi la chemise, ma cherie.” But 
she wouldn’t. She said, “Oh no’-non, mon lieutenant. Ce 
n’est pas convenable.” ’ I was glad when we were back in 
trenches. And there I had a more or less reassuring letter 
from Dick. He told me that I was right, that my cousin had 
a spite against him and me, that he had been ragging about 
in a silly way, but that there was not much harm to it; he. 
was very sorry and would stop it for the sake of our friendship. 

At the end of July, I and Robertson, one of the other five 
Royal Welch officers who had been attached to the Welsh, 
got orders to proceed to the Laventie sector, some miles to 
the north. We were to report to the Second Battalion of the 
Royal Welch Fusiliers. Frank Jones-Bateman and Hanmer 
Jones, two more of us, went to the First Battalion. The 
remaining two of the six had already gone back, McLellan 
sick and Watkin with bomb wounds that have kept him 
limping ever since. We were sorry to say good-bye to the 
men; they all crowded round to shake hands and wish us 
luck. And we felt a little sorry too that we had to start all 
over again getting to know a new company and new regi- 
mental customs. But it would be worth it, to be with our 
own regiment. Robertson and I agreed to take our journey 
as leisurely as possible. Laventie was only seventeen miles 
away, but our orders were to go there by train; so a mess-cart 
took us down to B6thune. We asked the railway transport 
officer what trains he had to Laventie. He told us one was 
going in a few minutes; we decided to miss it. There was no 
train after that until the next day, so we stopped the night 
at the H6tel de la France. (The Prince of Wales, who was a 
lieutenant in the Fortieth Siege Battery, was billeted there 


sometimes. He was a familiar figure in B€thune. I only 
spoke to him once; it was in the public bath, where he and 
I were the only bathers one morning. He was graciously 
pleased to remark how emphatically cold the water was and 
I loyally assented that he was emphatically right. We were 
very pink and white and did exercises on the horizontal bar 
afterwards. I joked to Frank about it: ‘I have just met our 
future King in a bath.’ Frank said: ‘I can trump that. Two 
days ago I had a friendly talk with him in the A.S.C. latrines.’ 
The Prince’s favourite rendezvous was the Glohe^ a cafS in 
the Bethune market square reserved for British officers and 
French civilians; principally spies by the look of them. I once 
heard him complaining indignantly that General French 
had refused to let him go up into the line.) 

The next day we caught our train. It took us to a junction, 
the name of which I forget. Here we spent a day walking 
about in the fields. There was no train until next day, when 
one took us on to Berguette, a railhead still a number of 
miles from Laventie, where a mess-cart was waiting for us 
in answer to a telegram we had sent. We finally rattled up 
to battalion headquarters in Laventie High Street. We had 
taken fifty-two hours to come seventeen miles. We saluted 
the adjutant smartly, gave our names, and said that we were 
Third Battalion officers posted to the regiment. ' He did not 
shake hands with us, offer us a drink, or give us a word of 
welcome. He said coldly: T see. Well, which of you is 
senior.f* Oh, never mind. Give your particulars to the 
regimental sergeant-major. Tell him to post whoever is 
senior to A Company and the other to B Company.’ The 
sergeant-major took our particulars. He introduced me to a 
young second-lieutenant of A Company, to which I was to 
go. He was a special reservist of the East Smrey Regiment 

i66 good-bye TO ALL* THAT Ch. xiv 

and was known as the Surrey-man. He took me along to 
the company billet. As soon as we were out of earshot of 
battalion headquarters I asked him: ‘What’s wrong with the 
adjutant.? Why didn’t he shake hands or give me any sort 
of decent welcome.?’ 

The Surrey-man said: ‘Well, it’s your regiment, not mine. 
They’re all like that. You must realize that this is a regular 
battalion, one of the only four infantry battalions in France 
that is still more or less its old self. This is the Nineteenth 
Brigade, the luckiest in France. It has not been permanently 
part of any division, but used as army reserve to put in 
wherever a division has been badly knocked. So, except for 
the retreat, where it lost about a company, and Fromelles, 
where it lost half of what was left, it has been practically 
undamaged. A lot of the wounded have rejoined since. 
All our company commanders are regulars, and so are all 
our N.C.O.’s. The peace-time custom of taking no notice 
of newly-joined officers is still more or less kept up for the 
first six months. It’s bad enough for the Sandhurst chaps, 
it’s worse for special reservists like you and Rugg and 
Robertson, it’s worse still for outsiders like me from another 
regiment.’ We were going down the village street. The men 
sitting about on the door-steps jumped up smartly to atten- 
tion as we passed and saluted with a fixed stony glare. They 
were magnificent looking men. Their uniforms were spot- 
less, their equipment khaki-blancoed and their buttons and 
cap-badges twinkling. We reached company headquarters, 
where I reported to my company commander. Captain 
G. O. Thomas. He was a regular of seventeen years’ service, 
a well-known polo-player, and a fine soldier. This is the 
order that he would himself have preferred. He shook hands 
without a word, waved me to a chair, offered a cigarette and 


continued writing his letter. I found later that A was the 
best company I could have struck. 

The Surrey-man asked me to help him censor some com- 
pany letters before going over to the battalion mess for 
lunch; they were more literate than the ones in the Welsh 
regiment, but duller. On the way to the mess he told me 
more about the battalion. He asked me whether it was my 
first time out. ‘I was attached to the Second Welsh Regiment 
for three months; I commanded a company there for a bit.’ 
‘Oh, were you? Well, I’d advise you to say nothing at all 
about it, then they’ll not expect too much of you. They 
treat us like dirt; in a way it will be worse for you than for 
me because you’re a full lieutenant. They’ll resent that with 
your short service. There’s one lieutenant here of six years’ 
service and second-lieutenants who have been out here since 
the autumn. They have already had two Special Reserve 
captains foisted on them; they’re planning to get rid of 
them somehow. In the mess, if you open your mouth or 
make the slightest noise the senior officers jump down your 
throat. Only officers of the rank of captain are allowed to 
drink whisky or turn on the gramophone. We’ve got to 
jolly well keep still and look like furniture. It’s just like 
peace time. Mess bills are very high; the mess was in debt 
at Quetta last year and we are economising now to pay that 
back. We get practically nothing for our money but ordinary 
rations and the whisky we aren’t allowed to drink. 

‘We’ve even got a polo-ground here. There was a polo- 
match between the First and Second Battalions the other 
day. The First Battalion had had all their decent ponies 
pinched that time when they were sent up at Ypres and the 
cooks and transport men had to come up into the line to 
prevent a break through. So this battalion won easily. Can 


you ride? No? Well, subalterns who can’t ride have to 
attend riding-school every afternoon while we’re in billets. 
They give us hell, too. Two of us have been at it for four 
months and haven’t passed off yet. They keep us trotting 
round the field, with crossed stirrups most of the time, and 
they give us pack-saddles instead of riding-saddles. Yester- 
day they called us up suddenly without giving us time to 
change into breeches. That reminds me, you notice every- 
body’s wearing shorts? It’s a regimental order. The battalion 
thinks it’s still in India. They treat the French civilians just 
like “niggers,” kick them about, talk army Hindustani at 
them. It makes me laugh sometimes. Well, what with a 
greasy pack-saddle, bare knees, crossed stirrups, and a wild 
new transport pony that the transport men had pinched from 
the French, I had a pretty thin time. The colonel, the 
adjutant, the senior major and the transport officer stood at 
the four corners of the ring and slogged at the ponies as 
they came round. I came off twice and got wild with anger, 
and nearly decided to ride the senior major down. The funny 
thing is that they don’t realize that they are treating us badly — 
it’s such an honour to be serving with the regiment. So the 
best thing is to pretend you don’t care what they do or say.’ 

I protested: ‘But all this is childish. Is there a war on here 
or isn’t there?’ 

‘The battalion doesn’t recognize it socially,’ he answered. 
‘Still, in trenches I’d rather be with this battalion than in 
any other that I have met. The senior officers do know their 
job, whatever else one says about them, and the N.C.O.’s 
are absolutely trustworthy.’ 

The Second Battalion was peculiar in having a battalion 
mess instead of company messes. The Surrey-man said 
grimly: ‘It’s supposed to be more sociable.’ This was another 


peace-time survival. We went together into the big chateau 
near the church. About fifteen officers of various ranks were 
sitting in chairs reading the week’s illustrated papers or 
(the seniors at least) talking quietly. At the door I said: 
‘Good morning, gentlemen,’ the new officer’s customary 
greeting to the mess. There was no answer. Everybody 
looked at me curiously. The silence that my entry had 
caused was soon broken by the gramophone, which began 
singing happily: 

We’ve been married just one year. 

And Oh, we’ve got the sweetest. 

And Oh, we’ve got the neatest. 

And Oh, we’ve got the cutest 
Little oil stove. 

I found a chair in the background and picked up The Field. 
The door burst open suddenly and a senior officer with a 
red face and angry eye burst in. ‘Who the blazes put that 
record on?’ he shouted to the room. ‘One of the bloody 
warts I expect. Take it off somebody. It makes me sick. 
Let’s have some real music. Put on the Angelusl Two 
subalterns (in the Royal Welch a subaltern had to answer 
to the name of ‘wart’) sprang up, stopjled the gramophone, 
and put on When the Angelus is ringing. The young captain 
who had put on We've been married shrugged his shoulders 
and went on reading, the other faces in the room were blank. 

‘Who was that?’ I whispered to the Surrey-man. 

He frowned. ‘That’s Buzz Off,’ he said. 

Before the record was finished the door opened and in 
came the colonel; Buzz Off reappeared with him. Everybody 
jumped up and said in unison: ‘Good morning, sir.’ It was 


his first appearance that day. Before giving the customary 
greeting and asking us to sit down he turned spitefully to 
the gramophone; ‘Who on earth puts this wretched Angelus 
on every time I come into the mess? For heaven’s sake 
play something cheery for a change.’ And with his own 
hands he took off the Angelus^ wound up the gramophone 
and put on We've been married just one year. At that moment 
a gong rang for lunch and he abandoned it. We filed into 
the next room, a ball-room with mirrors and a decorated 
ceiling. We sat down at a long, polished table. The seniors 
sat at the top, the juniors competed for seats as far away 
from them as possible. I was unlucky enough to get a seat 
at the foot of the table facing the commanding officer, the 
adjutant and Buzz Off. There was not a word spoken down 
that end except for an occasional whisper for the salt or 
for the beer — very thin French stuff. Robertson, who had 
not been warned, asked the mess waiter for whisky. ‘Sorry, 
sir,’ said the mess waiter, ‘it’s against orders for the young 
officers.’ Robertson was a man of forty-two, a solicitor with 
a large practice, and had stood for Parliament in the Y armouth 
division at the previous election. 

I saw Buzz Off glaring at us and busied myself with my 
meat and potatoes. 

He nudged the adjutant. ‘Who are those two funny ones 
down there, Charley,’ he asked. 

‘New this morning from the militia. Answer to the names 
of Robertson and Graves.’ 

‘Which is which?’ asked the colonel. 

‘I’m Robertson, sir.’ 

‘I wasn’t asking you.’ 

Robertson winced, but said nothing. Then Buzz Off 
noticed something. 


‘T’other wart’s wearing a wind-up tunic.’ Then he bent 
forward and asked me loudly. ‘You there, wart. Why the 
hell are you wearing your stars on your shoulder instead of 
your sleeve?’ 

My mouth was full and I was embarrassed. Everybody 
was looking at me. I swallowed the lump of meat whole and 
said: ‘It was a regimental order in the Welsh Regiment. 
I understood that it was the same everywhere in France.’ 

The colonel turned puzzled to the adjutant: ‘What on 
earth’s the man talking about the Welsh Regiment for?’ 
And then to me: ‘As soon as you have finished your lunch 
you will visit the master-tailor. Report at the orderly room 
when you’re properly dressed.’ 

There was a severe struggle in me between resentment 
and regimental loyalty. Resentment for the moment had the 
better of it. I said under my breath: ‘You damned snobs. 
I’ll survive you all. There’ll come a time when there won’t 
be one of you left serving in the battalion to remember 
battalion mess at Laventie.’ This time came, exactly a year 

We went up to the trenches that night. They were high- 
command trenches; because water was struck when one dug 
down three feet, the parapet and parados were built up man- 
high. I found my platoon curt and reserved. Even when on 
sentry-duty at night they would never talk confidentially 
about themselves and their families like my platoon in the 
Welsh Regiment. Townsend, the platoon-sergeant, was an 
ex-policeman who had been on the reserve when war broke 
out. He used to drive his men rather than lead them. ‘A’ 
company was at Red Lamp Corner; the front trench broke 
off short here and started again further back on the right. 

^The quartermaster excepted. 

Ch. XIV 


A red lamp was hung at the corner, invisible to the enemy, 
but a warning after dark to the company on oxir right not 
to fire to the left of it. Work and duties were done with a 
silent soldier-like efficiency quite foreign to the Welsh. 

The first night I was in trenches my company commander 
asked me to go out on patrol; it was the regimental custom to 
test new officers in this way. All the time that I had been 
with the Welsh I had never once been out in No Man’s Land, 
even to inspect the barbed wire. In the Welsh Regiment the 
condition of the wire was, I believe, the responsibility of the 
battalion intelligence officer. I never remember any work 
done on it by C Company. I think we left it to the Royal 
Engineers. When Hewitt, the machine-gun officer, used 
to go out on patrol sometimes it was regarded as a mad 
escapade. But with both battalions of the Royal Welch 
Fusiliers it was a point of honour to be masters of No Man’s 
Land from dusk to dawn. There was not a night at Laventie 
that a message did not come down the line from sentry to 
sentry: ‘Pass the word; officer’s patrol going out.’ My orders 
for this patrol were to see whether a German sap-head was 
occupied by night or not. 

I went out from Red Lamp Corner with Sergeant Town- 
send at about ten o’clock. We both had revolvers. We 
pulled socks, with the toes cut off, over our bare knees, to 
prevent them showing up in the dark and to make crawling 
easier. We went ten yards at a time, slowly, not on all fours, 
but wriggling flat along the ground. After each movement 
we lay and watched for about ten minutes. We crawled 
through our own wire entanglements and along a dry ditch; 
ripping our clothes on more barbed wire, glaring into the 
darkness till it began turning round and round (once I 
snatched my fingers in horror from where I had planted 


them on the slimy body of an old corpse), nudging each 
other with rapidly beating hearts at the slightest noise or 
suspicion, crawling, watching, crawling, shamming dead 
under the blinding light of enemy flares and again crawling, 
watching, crawling. (A Second Battalion officer who re- 
visited these Laventie trenches after the war was over told 
me of the ridiculously small area of No Man’s Land com- 
pared with the size it seemed on the long, painful journeys 
that he made over it. ‘It was like the real size of the hollow 
in a tooth compared with the size it feels to the tongue.’) 

We found a gap in the German wire and came at last 
to within five yards of the sap-head that was our objective. 
We waited quite twenty minutes listening for any signs of 
its occupation. Then I nudged Sergeant Townsend and, 
revolvers in hand, we wriggled quickly forward and slid 
into it. It was about three feet deep and unoccupied. On 
the floor were a few empty cartridges and a wicker basket 
containing something large and smooth and round, twice 
as large as a football. Very, very carefully I groped and felt 
all around it in the dark. I couldn’t guess what it was. I 
was afraid that it was some sort of infernal machine. Event- 
ually I dared to lift it out and carry it back. I had a suspicion 
that it might be one of the German gas-cylinders that we 
had heard so much about. We got back after making 
the journey of perhaps two hundred yards in rather more 
than two hours. The sentries passed along the word that 
we were in again. Our prize turned out to be a large glass 
container quarter-filled with some pale yellow liquid. This 
was sent down to battalion headquarters and from there sent 
along to the divisional intelligence office. Everybody was 
very interested in it. The theory was that the vessel con- 
tained a chemical for re-damping gas masks. I now believe 


it was the dregs of country wine mixed with rainwater. I 
never heard the official report. The colonel, however, told 
my company commander in the hearing of the Surrey-man: 
‘Your new wart seems to have more guts than the others.’ 
After this I went out fairly often. I found that the only thing 
that the regiment respected in young officers was personal 

Besides, I had worked it out like this. The best way of 
lasting the war out was to get wounded. The best time to 
get wounded was at night and in the open, because a wound 
in a vital spot was less likely. Fire was more or less unaimed 
at night and the whole body was exposed. It was also con- 
venient to be wounded when there was no rush on the 
dressing-station services, and when the back areas were not 
being heavily shelled. It was most convenient to be wounded, 
therefore, on a night patrol in a quiet sector. You could 
usually manage to crawl into a shell-hole until somebody 
came to the rescue. Still, patrolling had its peculiar risks. 
If you were wounded and a German patrol got you, they 
were as likely as not to cut your throat. The bowie-knife 
was a favourite German patrol weapon; it was silent. (At 
this time the British inclined more to the ‘cosh,’ a loaded 
stick.) The most important information that a patrol could 
bring back was to what regiment and division the troops 
opposite belonged. So if a wounded man was found and it 
was impossible to get him back without danger to oneself, 
the thing to be done was to strip him of his badges. To do 
that quickly and silently it might be necessary first to cut 
his throat or beat in his skull. 

Sir P. Mostyn, a lieutenant who was often out patrolling at 
Laventie, had a feud on with a German patrol on the left 
of the battalion frontage. (Our patrols usually consisted of 


an officer and one or, at the most, two men. German patrols 
■were usually six or seven men under an N.C.O. German 
officers left as much as they decently could to their N.C.O.’s. 
They did not, as one of our sergeant-majors put it, believe in 
‘keeping a dog and barking themselves.’) One night Mostyn 
caught sight of his opponets; he had raised himself on one 
knee to throw a percussion bomb at them when they fired 
and wounded him in the arm, which immediately went numb. 
He caught the bomb before it hit the ground and threw it 
with his left hand, and in the confusion that followed managed 
to return to the trench. 

Like every one else I had a carefully worked out formula 
for taking risks. We would all take any risk, even the 
certainty of death, to save life or to maintain an important 
position. To take life we would run, say, a one-in-five risk, 
particularly if there was some wider object than merely reduc- 
ing the enemy’s man -power; for instance, picking off a 
well-known sniper, or getting fire ascendancy in trenches 
where the lines were dangerously close. I only once refrained 
from shooting a German I saw, and that was at Cuinchy 
about three weeks after this. When sniping from a knoll in 
the support line where we had a concealed loop-hole I saw a 
German, about seven hundred yards away, through my 
telescopic sights. He was having a bath in the German 
third line. I somehow did not like the idea of shooting a 
naked man, so I handed the rifle to the sergeant who was 
with me and said: ‘Here, take this. You’re a better shot than 
me.’ He got him, he said; but I had not stayed to watch. 

About saving the lives of enemy wounded there was 
disagreement; the convention varied with the di'vision. Some 
di'visions, like the Canadians and a di'vision of Lowland 
territorials, who had, they claimed, atrocities to avenge. 


would not only take no risks to rescue enemy wounded, but 
would go out of their way to finish them off. The Royal 
Welch Fusiliers were gentlemanly: perhaps a one-in-twenty 
risk to get a wounded German to safety would be considered 
justifiable. An important factor in taking risks was our own 
physical condition. When exhausted and wanting to get 
quickly from one point in the trenches to another without 
collapse, and if the enemy were not nearer than four or five 
hundred yards, we would sometimes take a short cut over 
the top. In a hurry we would take a one-in-two-hundred risk, 
when dead tired a one-in-fifty risk. In some battalions where 
the morale was not high, one-in-fifty risks were often taken 
in mere laziness or despair. The Munsters in the First 
Division were said by the Welsh to ‘waste men wicked’ by 
not keeping properly under cover when in the reserve lines. 
In the Royal Welch there was no wastage of this sort. At 
no time in the war did any of us allow ourselves to believe 
that hostilities could possibly continue more than nine months 
or a year more, so it seemed almost worth while taking care; 
there even seemed a chance of lasting until the end absolutely 

The Second Royal Welch, unlike the Second Welsh, 
believed themselves better trench fighters than the Germans. 
With the Second Welsh it was not cowardice but modesty. 
With the Second Royal Welch it was not vainglory but 
courage: as soon as they arrived in a new sector they insisted 
on getting fire ascendancy. Having found out from the 
troops they relieved all possible information as to enemy 
snipers, machine-guns, and patrols, they set themselves to 
deal with them one by one. They began with machine-guns 
firing at night. As soon as one started traversing down a 
trench the whole platoon farthest removed from its fire would 

Ch. XIV 



open five rounds rapid at it. The machine-gun would usually 
stop suddenly but start again after a minute or two. Again 
five rounds rapid. Then it usually gave up. 

The Welsh seldom answered a machine-gun. If they did, 
it was not with local organized fire, beginning and ending 
in unison, but in ragged confused protest all along the line. 
There was almost no firing at night in the Royal Welch, 
except organized fire at a machine-gun or a persistent enemy 
sentry, or fire at a patrol close enough to be distinguished as 
a German one. With all other battalions I met in France 
there was random popping off all the time; the sentries 
wanted to show their spite against the war. Flares were rarely 
used in the Royal Welch; most often as signals to our patrols 
that it was time to come back. 

As soon as enemy machine-guns had been discouraged, our 
patrols would go out with bombs to claim possession of No 
Man’s Land. At dawn next morning came the struggle for 
sniping ascendancy. The Germans, we were told, had special 
regimental snipers, trained in camouflaging themselves. I 
saw one killed once at Cuinchy who had been firing all day 
from a shell-hole between the lines. He had a sort of cape 
over his shoulders of imitation grass, his face was painted 
green and brown, and his rifle was also green fringed. A 
number of empty cartridges were found by him, and his cap 
with the special oak-leaf badge. Few battalions attempted to 
get control of the sniping situation. The Germans had the 
advantage of having many times more telescopic sights than 
we did, and steel loopholes that our bullets could not pierce. 
Also a system by which the snipers were kept for months 
in the same sector until they knew all the loopholes and 
shallow places in our trenches, and the tracks that our 
ration-parties used above-ground by night, and where our 



traverses came in the trench, and so on, better than we did 
ourselves. British snipers changed their trenches, with their 
battalions, every week or two, and never had time to learn 
the German line thoroughly. But at least we counted on 
getting rid of the unprofessional German sniper. Later we 
had an elephant-gun in the battalion that would pierce the 
German loopholes, and if we could not locate the loophole of 
a persistent sniper we did what we could to dislodge him 
by a volley of rifle-grenades, or even by ringing up the 

It puzzled us that if a sniper were spotted and killed, 
another sniper would begin again next day from the same 
position. The Germans probably underrated us and regarded 
it as an accident. The willingness of other battalions to let 
the Germans have sniping ascendancy helped us; enemy 
snipers often exposed themselves unnecessarily, even the 
professionals. There was, of course, one advantage of which 
no advance or retreat of the enemy could rob us, and that 
was that we were always facing more or less East; dawn 
broke behind the German lines, and they seldom realized 
that for several minutes every morning we could see them 
though still invisible ourselves. German night wiring-parties 
often stayed out too long, and we could get a man or two as 
they went back; sunsets were against us, but sunset was a 
less critical time. Sentries at night were made to stand with 
their head and shoulders above the trenches and their rifles 
in position on the parapet. This surprised me at first. But 
it meant greater vigilance and self-confidence in the sentry, 
and it put the top of his head above the level of the parapet. 
Enemy machine-guns were trained on this level, and it was 
safer to be hit in the chest or shoulders than in the top of 
the head. The risk of unaimed fire at night was negligible. 


so this was really the safest plan. It often happened in 
battalions like the Second Welsh, where the head-and- 
shoulder rule was not in force and the sentry just took a 
peep now and then, that an enemy patrol would sneak up 
unseen to the British wire, throw a few bombs and get safely 
back. In the Royal Welch the barbed-wire entanglement 
was the responsibility of the company behind it. One of our 
first acts on taking over trenches was to inspect and repair 
it. We did a lot of work on the wire. 

Thomas was an extremely silent man; it was not sullenness 
but shyness. ‘Yes’ and ‘no’ was the limit of his usual con- 
versation; it was difficult for us subalterns. He never took 
us into his confidence about company affairs, and we did not 
like asking him too much. His chief interests seemed to be 
polo and the regiment. He was most conscientious in taking 
his watch at night, a thing that the other company com- 
manders did not always do. We enjoyed his food-hampers 
sent every week from Fortnum and Mason; we messed by 
companies when in the trenches. Our only complaint was 
that Buzz Off, who had a good nose for a hamper, used to 
spend more time than he would otherwise have done in the 
company mess. This embarrassed us. Thomas went on 
leave to England about this time. I heard about it accident- 
ally. He walked about the West End astonished at the 
amateur militariness that he met everywhere. To be more in 
keeping with it he gave elaborate awkward salutes to newly- 
joined second-lieutenants and raised his cap to dug-out 
colonels and generals. It was a private joke at the expense of 
the war. 

I used to look forward to our spells in trenches at Laventie. 
Billet life meant battalion mess, also riding-school, which 
I found rather worse than the Surrey-man had described it. 


Parades were carried out with peace-time punctiliousness 
and smartness, especially the daily battalion guard-changing 
which every now and then, when I was orderly officer, it 
was my duty to supervise. On one occasion, after the 
guard-changing ceremony and inspection were over and I 
was about to dismiss the old guard, I saw Buzz Off cross the 
village street from one company headquarters to another. 
As he crossed I called the guard to attention and saluted, 
I waited for a few seconds and then dismissed the guard, but 
he had not really gone into the biliet; he had been waiting in 
the doorway. As soon as I dismissed the guard he dashed 
out with a great show of anger. ‘As you were, as you were, 
stand fast!’ he shouted to the guard. And then to me: ‘Why 
in hell’s name, Mr. Graves, didn’t you ask my permission to 
dismiss the parade? You’ve read the King’s Regulations, 
haven’t you? And where the devil are your manners, any- 
how?’ I apologized. I said that I thought he had gone into 
the house. This made matters worse. He bellowed at me 
for arguing; then he asked me where I had learned to salute. 
‘At the depot, sir,’ I answered. ‘Then, by heaven, Mr. 
Graves, you’ll have to learn to salute as the battalion does. 
You will parade every morning before breakfast for a month 
under Staff-sergeant Evans and do an hour’s saluting drill.’ 
Then he turned to the guard and dismissed them himself. 
This was not a particular act of spite against me but the 
general game of ‘chasing the warts,’ at which all the senior 
officers played. It was honestly intended to make us better 

I had been with the Royal Welch about three weeks when 
the Nineteenth Brigade was moved down to the B6thune sector 
to fill a gap in the Second Division; the gap was made by 
taking out the brigade of Guards to go into the Guards 


Division which was then being formed. On the way down 
we marched past Lord Kitchener. Kitchener, we were told, 
commented to the brigadier on the soldier-like appearance of 
the leading battalion — which was ourselves — but said cynic- 
ally: ‘Wait until they’ve been a week or two in the trenches; 
they will lose some of that high polish.’ He apparently 
mistook us for one of the new-army battalions. 

The first trenches we went into on our arrival were the 
Cuinchy brick-stacks. The company I was with was on 
the canal-bank frontage, a few hundred yards to the left of 
where I had been with the Welsh Regiment at the end of 
May. The Germans opposite wished to be sociable. They 
sent messages over to us in undetonated rifle-grenades. One 
of these messages was evidently addressed to the Irish 
battalion we had relieved: 

We all German korporals wish you English korporals 
a good day and invite you to a good German dinner 
to-night with beer (ale) and cakes. You little dog ran 
over to us and we keep it safe; it became no food with 
you so it run to us. Answer in the same way, if you 

Another message was a copy of the Neueste Nachrichten, a 
German army newspaper printed at Lille. It gave sensational 
details of Russian defeats around Warsaw and immense 
captures of prisoners and guns. But we were more interested 
in a full account in another column of the destruction of a 
German submarine by British armed trawlers; no details of 
the sinking of German submarines had been allowed to 
appear in any English papers. The battalion cared no more 
about the successes or reverses of our Allies than it did about 

i 82 good-bye to all THAT Ch.xiv 

the origins of the war. It never allowed itself to have any 
political feelings about the Germans. A professional soldier’s 
job was to fight whomsoever the King ordered him to fight; 
it was as simple as that. With the King as colonel-in-chief 
of the regiment it was even simpler. The Christmas 1914 
fraternization, in which the battalion was among the first to 
participate, was of the same professional simplicity; it was not 
an emotional hiatus but a commonplace of military tradition 
-an exchange of courtesies between officers of opposite 

Cuinchy was one of the worst places for rats. They came 
up from the canal and fed on the many corpses and multi- 
plied. When I was here with the Welsh a new officer came 
to the company, and, as a token of his welcome, he was 
given a dug-out containing a spring-bed. When he turned 
in that night he heard a scuffling, shone his torch on the 
bed, and there were two rats on his blankets tussling for 
the possession of a severed hand. This was thought a great 

The colonel called for a patrol to go out along the side 
of the tow-path, where we had heard suspicious sounds on 
the previous night, to see whether a working-party was out. 
I volunteered to go when it was dark. But there was a moon 
that night so bright and full that it dazzled the eyes to look 
at it. Between us and the Germans was a flat stretch of about 
two hundred yards, broken only by shell-craters and an 
occasional patch of coarse grass. I was not with my own 
company, but lent to B, which had two officers away on 
leave. Childe-Freeman, the company commander, said: 
‘You’re not going out on patrol to-night, are you.? It’s 
almost as bright as day.’ I said: ‘All the more reason for 
going; they won’t be expecting me. Will you please have 


everything as usual? Let the men fire an occasional rifle 
and send up a flare every half hour. If I go carefully they’ll 
not see me.’ But I was nervous, and while we were having 
supper I clumsily knocked over a cup of tea, and after that 
a plate. Freeman said: ‘Look here, I’ll ’phone through to 
battalion and tell them it’s too bright for you to go out.’ 
But I knew Buzz Off would accuse me of cold feet, so 
Sergeant Williams and I put on our crawlers and went out 
by way of a mine-crater at the side of the tow-path. There 
was no need that night for the usual staring business. We 
could see only too clearly. All we had to do was to wait for 
an opportunity to move quickly, stop dead and trust to luck, 
then move on quickly again. We planned our rushes from 
shell-hole to shell-hole; the opportunities were provided by 
artillery or machine-gun fire which would distract the 
sentries. Many of the craters contained corpses of men 
who had been wounded and crept in and died. Some of them 
were skeletons, picked clean by the rats. We got to within 
thirty yards of a big German working-party who were digging 
a trench ahead of their front line. Between them and us we 
could count a covering party of ten men lying on the grass 
in their great-coats. We had gone far enough. There was a 
German lying on his back about twelve yards away humming 
a tune. It was the ‘Merry Widow’ waltz. The sergeant, 
who was behind me, pressed my foot with his hand and 
showed me the revolver he was carrying. He raised his eye- 
brows inquiringly. I gave him the signal for ‘no.’ We turned 
to go back; it was hard not to go back too quickly. We had 
got about half-way back when a German machine-^n 
opened traversing fire along the top of oxir trenches. We 
immediately jumped to our feet; the bullets were brushing 
the grass, so it was safer to be standing up. We walked the 


rest of the way back, but moving irregularly to distract the 
aim of the covering party if they saw us. Back in the trench 
I r ang up the artillery and asked them to fire as much shrapnel 
as they could spare fifty yards short of where the German 
front trench touched the tow-path; I knew that one of the 
night-lines of the battery supporting us was trained near 
enough to this point. A minute and a quarter later the shells 
started coming over. We heard the clash of downed tools 
and distant shouts and cries; we reckoned the probable 
casualties. The next morning at stand-to Buzz Off came up 
to me: ‘I hear you were on patrol last night?’ I said; ‘Yes, sir.’ 
He asked me for particulars. When I had told him about the 
covering party he cursed me for ‘not scuppering them with 
that revolver of yours. Cold feet,’ he snorted as he turned 

One day while we were here the Royal Welch were 
instructed to shout across to the enemy and induce them to 
take part in a conversation. The object was to find out 
how strongly the German front trenches were manned at 
night. A German-speaking officer in the company among 
the brick-stacks was provided with a megaphone. He 
shouted: ‘Wie gehts ihnen, kamaraden?’ Somebody shouted 
back in delight: ‘Ah, Tommee, hast du den deutsch gelernt?’ 
Firing stopped and a conversation began across the fifty 
yards or so of No Man’s Land. The Germans refused to say 
what regiment they were. They would not talk any military 
shop. One of them shouted out: ‘Les sheunes madamoiselles 
de La Bass^e bonnes pour coucher avec. Les madamoiselles 
de B^thune bonnes aussi, hein?’ Our spokesman refused to 
discuss this. In the pause that followed he asked how the 
Kaiser was. They replied respectfully that he was in excel- 
lent health, thank you. ‘And how is the Crown Prince?’ he 

Ch.. XIV 



asked them. ‘Oh, b — r the Crown Prince,’ shouted somebody 
in English, and was immediately suppressed by his com- 
rades. There was a confusion of angry voices and laughter. 
Then they all began singing the ‘Wacht am Rhein.’ The 
trench was evidently very well held indeed. 


This was the end of August 1915, and particulars of the 
coming offensive against La Bass^e were beginning to leak 
through the young staff officers. The French civilians knew 
that it was coming and so, naturally, did the Germans. Every 
night now new batteries and lorry-trains of shells came 
rumbling up the B^thune-La Bass^e road. There were other 
signs of movement: sapping forward at Vermelles and 
Cambrin, where the lines were too far apart for a quick rush 
across, to make a new front line; orders for evacuation of 
hospitals; the appearance of cavalry and new-army divisions. 
Then Royal Engineer officers supervised the digging of pits 
at intervals in the front line. They were sworn not to say 
what these were for, but we knew that they were for gas- 
cylinders. Scaling ladders for climbing quickly out of 
trenches were brought up by the lorry-load and dumped at 
Cambrin village. As early as September 3rd I had a bet 
with Robertson that our division would attack on this 
Cambrin-Cuinchy sector. When I went home on leave on 
September 9th the sense of impending events was so great 
that I almost wished I was not going. 

Leave came round for officers about every six or eight 
months in ordinary times; heavy casualties shortened the 
period, general offensives cut off leave altogether. There 
was only one officer in France who was ever said to have 
refused to go on leave when his turn came round - Cross of 
the Fifty-second Light Infantry (the Second Battalion of 
the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry, which insisted on its 
original style as jealously as we kept our ‘c’ in ‘Welch’). 
Cross is alleged to have refused leave on these grounds: ‘My 
fether fought with the regiment in the South African War 



and had no leave; my grandfather fought in the Crimea with 
the regiment and had no leave. I do not regard it in the 
regimental tradition to take home-leave when on active 
service.’ Cross was a professional survivor and was com- 
manding the battalion in 1917 when I last heard ot 

London seemed unreally itself. In spite of the number of 
men in uniform in the streets, the general indifference to 
and ignorance about the war was remarkable. Enlistment 
was still voluntary. The universal catchword was ‘Business 
as usual.’ My family were living in London now, at the 
house formerly occupied by my uncle, Robert von Ranke, 
the German consul. He had been forced to leave in a hurry 
on August 4th, 1914, and my mother had undertaken to 
look after it for him while the war lasted. So when Edward 
Marsh, then secretary to the Prime Minister, rang me up 
from Downing Street to arrange a meal, someone intervened 
and cut him off. The telephone of the German consul’s 
sister was, of course, closely watched by the anti-espionage 
men of Scotland Yard. The Zeppelin scare had just begun. 
Some friends of the family came in one night. They knew 
I had been in the trenches, but were not interested. They 
began telling me of the air-raids, of bombs dropped only 
three streets off. So I said: ‘Well, do you know, the other 
day I was asleep in a house and in the early morning an 
aeroplane dropped a bomb next door and killed three soldiers 
who were billeted there, and a woman and child.’ ‘Good 
gracious,’ they said, looking at me with sudden interest, 
‘what did you do then?’ I said: ‘I went to sleep again; I was 
tired out. It was at a place called Beuvry, about four miles 
behind the trenches.’ They said: ‘Oh, but that was in 
France,’ and the look of interest faded from their faces, as 


though I had taken them in with a stupid catch. I went up 
to Harlech for the rest of my leave, and walked about on 
the hills in an old shirt and a pair of shorts. When I got 
back, ‘The Actor,’ a regular officer in A Company, asked me: 
‘Had a good time on leave?’ I said ‘Yes.’ He said: ‘Go to 
many dances?’ I said: ‘Not one.’ ‘What shows did you go 
to?’ ‘I didn’t go to any shows.’ ‘Hunt?’ ‘No!’ ‘Slept with 
any nice girls?’ ‘No, I didn’t. Sorry to disappoint you.’ 
‘What the hell did you do, then?’ ‘Oh, I just walked about 
on some hills.’ ‘Good God,’ he said, ‘chaps like you don’t 
deserve to go on leave.’ 

On September 1 9th we relieved the Middlesex at Cambrin, 
and it was said that these were the trenches from which we 
were to attack. The preliminary bombardment had already 
started, a week in advance. As I led my platoon into the line 
I recognized with some disgust the same machine-gun 
shelter where I had seen the suicide on my first night in 
trenches. It seemed ominous. This was the first heavy 
bombardment that I had yet seen from our own guns. 
The trenches shook properly and a great cloud of drifting 
shell-smoke clouded the German trenches. The shells went 
over our heads in a steady stream; we had to shout to make 
our neighbours hear. Dying down a little at night, the noise 
began again every morning at dawn, a little louder each 
time. We said: ‘Damn it, there can’t be a living soul left in 
those trenches.’ And still it went on. The Germans retaliated, 
though not very vigorously. Most of their heavy artillery 
had been withdrawn from this sector, we were told, and sent 
across to the Russian front. We had more casualties from 
our own shorts and from blow-backs than from German 
shells. Much of the ammunition that our batteries were 
using came firom America and contained a high percentage 


of duds; the driving-bands were always coming ojEF. We had 
fifty casualties in the ranks and three officer casualties, in- 
cluding Buzz Off, who was badly wounded in the head. 
This was before steel helmets were issued; we would not 
have lost nearly so many if we had had them. I had two 
insignificant wounds on the hand which I took as an omen 
on the right side. On the morning of the 23rd Thomas came 
back from battalion headquarters with a notebook in his 
hand and a map for each of us company officers. ‘Listen,* 
he said, ‘and copy out all this skite on the back of your maps. 
You’ll have to explain it to your platoons this afternoon. 
To-morrow morning we go back to B6thune to dump our 
blankets, packs, and greatcoats. On the next day, that’s 
Saturday the 25th, we attack.’ It was the first definite news 
we had been given and we looked up half startled, half 
relieved. I still have the map and these are the orders as I 
copied them down: 

First Objective. - Les Briques Farm. — The big house 
plainly visible to our front, surrounded by trees. To get 
this it is necessary to cross three lines of enemy trenches. 
The first is three hundred yards distant, the second 
four himdred, and the third about six hundred. We 
then cross two railways. Behind the second rail- 
way line is a German trench called the Brick Trench. 
Then comes the Farm, a strong place with moat 
and cellars and a kitchen garden strongly staked and 

Second Objective. — The Town of Auchy. — This is also 
plainly visible from our trenches. It is four hundred 
yards beyond the Farm and defended by a first line of 



trench half way across, and a second line immediately 
in front of the town. When we have occupied the first 
line our direction is half-right, with the left of the 
battalion directed on Tall Chimney. 

Third Objective. — Village of Haisnes. — Conspicuous by 
high-spired church. Our eventual line will be taken 
up on the railway behind this village, where we will dig 
in and await reinforcements. 

When Thomas had reached this point the shoulders of 
The Actor were shaking with laughter. ‘What’s up?’ asked 
Thomas irritably. The Actor asked: ‘Who in God’s Name 
is originally responsible for this little effort?’ Thomas said: 
‘Don’t know. Probably Paul the Pimp or someone like that.’ 
(Paul the Pimp was a captain on the divisional staff, young, 
inexperienced and much disliked. He ‘wore red tabs upon 
his chest. And even on his undervest.’) ‘Between you and 
me, but you youngsters be careful not to let the men know, 
this is what they call a subsidiary attack. We’ll have no 
supports. We’ve just got to go over and keep the enemy 
busy while the folk on our right do the real work. You 
notice that the bombardment is much heavier over there. 
They’ve knocked the Hohenzollern Redoubt to bits. Person- 
ally, I don’t give a damn either way. We’ll get killed any- 
how.’ We all laughed. ‘All right, laugh now, but by God 
on Saturday we’ve got to carry out this funny scheme.’ I 
had never heard Thomas so talkative before. ‘Sorry,’ The 
Actor apologized, ‘carry on with the dictation.’ Thomas 
went on: 

‘The attack will be preceded by forty minutes discharge 



of the accessory,^ which will clear the path for a thousand 
yards, so that the two railway lines will be occupied 
without difficulty. Our advance will follow closely behind 
the accessory. Behind us are three fresh divisions and the 
Cavalry Corps. It is expected we shall have no difficulty 
in breaking through. All men will parade with their 
platoons; pioneers, servants, etc. to be warned. All 
platoons to be properly told off under N.C.O.’s. Every 
N.C.O. is to know exactly what is expected of hijn, and 
when to take over command in case of casualties. Men 
who lose touch must join up with the nearest company or 
regiment and push on. Owing to the strength of the 
accessory, men should be warned against remaining too 
long in captured trenches where the accessory is likely to 
collect, but to keep to the open and above all to push on. 
It is important that if smoke-helmets have to be pulled 
down they must be tucked in under the shirt.* 

The Actor interrupted again. ‘Tell me, Thomas, do you 
believe in this funny accessory.?’ Thomas said; ‘It’s damnable. 
It’s not soldiering to use stuff like that even though the 
Germans did start it. It’s dirty, and it’ll bring us bad luck. 
We’re sure to bungle it. Look at those new gas-companies, 
(sorry, excuse me this once, I mean accessory-companies). 
Their very look makes me tremble. Chemistry-dons from 
London University, a few lads straight from school, one 
or two N.C.O.’s of the old-soldier type, trained together for 
three weeks, then given a job as responsible as this. Of 

’ The gas-q!'linders had by this time been put into position on the front 
line. A special order came round imposing severe penalties on anyone who 
used any word but ‘accessory’ in speaking of the gas. This was to keep it 
secret, but the French civilians knew all about it long before this. 


course they’ll bungle it. How could they do anything else? 
But let’s be merry. I’m going on again: 

‘Men of company: what they are to carry: 

Two hundred rounds of ammunition (bomb-throwers 
fifty, and signallers one hundred and fifty rounds). 

Heavy tools carried in sling by the strongest men. 

Waterproof sheet in belt. 

Sandbag in right coat-pocket. 

Field dressing and iodine. 

Emergency ration, including biscuit. 

One tube-helmet, to be worn when we advance, rolled up 
on the head. It must be quite secure and the top part 
turned down. If possible each man will be provided 
with an elastic band. 

One smoke-helmet, old pattern, to be carried for prefer- 
ence behind the back where it is least likely to be 
damaged by stray bullets, etc. 

Wire-cutters, as many as possible, by wiring party and 
others; hedging-gloves by wire party. 

Platoon screens, for artillery observation, to be carried by 
a man in each platoon who is not carrying a tool. 

Packs, capes, greatcoats, blankets will be dumped, not 

No one is to carry sketches of our position or anything 
likely to be of service to the enemy.’ 

‘That’s all. I believe we’re going over first with the 
Middlesex in support. If we get through the German wire 
I’ll be satisfied. Our guns don’t seem to be cutting it. 
Perhaps they’re putting that off until the intense bombard- 
ment. Any questions?’ 

Ch. XV 



That afternoon I repeated it all to the platoon and told 
them of the inevitable success attending our assault. They 
seemed to believe it. All except Sergeant Townsend. ‘Do 
you say, sir, that we have three divisions and the Cavalry 
Corps behind us.?’ he asked. ‘Yes,’ I answered. ‘Well, 
excuse me, sir, I’m thinking it’s only those chaps on the 
right that’ll get reinforcements. If we get half a platoon of 
Mons Angels, that’s about all we will get.’ ‘Sergeant 
Townsend,’ I said, ‘you are a well-known pessimist. This is 
going to be a good show.’ The next morning we were 
relieved by the Middlesex and marched back to B^thune, 
where we dumped our spare kit at the Montmorency 
Barracks. The battalion officers messed together in a big 
house near by. This billet was claimed at the same time by 
the staff of a new-army division which was to take part in 
the fighting next day. The argument was settled in a friendly 
way by division and battalion messing together. It was, 
someone pointed out, like a caricature of The Last Supper 
in duplicate. In the middle of the long table sat the two 
pseudo-Christs, the battalion colonel and the divisional 
general. Everybody was drinking a lot; the subalterns were 
allowed whisky for a treat, and were getting rowdy. They 
raised their glasses with: ‘Cheero, we will be messing together 
to-morrow night in La Bassee.’ Only the company com- 
manders were looking worried. I remember C Company 
commander especially. Captain A. L. Samson, biting his 
thumb and refusing to join in the general excitement. 

I think it was Childe-Freeman of B company who said that 
night: ‘The last time the regiment was in these parts it was 
under decent generalship. Old Marlborough knew better 
than to attack the La Bassee lines; he masked them and 
went round.’ 



The G.S.O. I of the new-army division, a staff-colonel, 
knew the adjutant well. They had played polo together in 
India. I happened to be sitting next to them. The G.S.O. i 
said to the adjutant, rather drunkenly: ‘Charley, do you see 
that silly old woman over there.^ Calls himself General 
Commanding. Doesn’t know where he is; doesn’t know 
where his division is; can’t read a map properly. He’s 
marched the poor sods off their feet and left his supplies 
behind, God knows where. They’ve had to use their iron 
rations and what they could pick up in the villages. And to- 
morrow he’s going to fight a battle. Doesn’t know anything 
about battles; the men have never been in trenches before, and 
to-morrow’s going to be a glorious balls-up, and the day after 
to-morrow he’ll be sent home.’ Then he said, quite seriously: 
‘Really, Charley, it’s just like that, you mark my words.’ 

That night we marched back again to Cambrin. The men 
were singing. Being mostly from the Midlands they sang 
comic songs instead of Welsh hymns: Slippery Sam^ When 
we've Wound up the Watch on the Rhine.) and 1 do like a 
S' nice S' mince Pie, to concertina accompaniment. The tune 
of the S' nice S' mince Pie ran in my head all next day, and for 
the week following I could not get rid of it. The Second 
Welsh would never have sung a song like When we've 
Wound up the Watch on the Rhine. Their only songs about 
the war were defeatist: 

I want to go home, 

I want to go home. 

The coal-box and shrapnel they whistle and roar, 

I don’t want to go to the trenches no more, 

I want to go over the sea 

Where the Kayser can’t shoot bombs at me. 


Oh, I 

Don’t want to die, 

I want to go home. 

There were several more verses in the same strain. Hewitt, 
the Welsh machine-gun officer, had written one in a more 
offensive spirit: 

I want to go home, 

I want to go home. 

One day at Givenchy the week before last 
The Allmands attacked and they nearly got past. 

They pushed their way up to the keep, 

Through our maxim-gun sight we did peep. 

Oh myl 

They let out a cry. 

They never got home. 

But the men would not sing it, though they all admired 

The B^thune-La Bassee road was choked with troops, 
guns, and transport, and we had to march miles north out of 
our way to get back to Cambrin. As it was we were held up 
two or three times by massed cavalry. Everything seemed in 
confusion. A casualty clearing-station had been planted 
astride one of the principal crossroads and was already being 
shelled. When we reached Cambrin we had marched about 
twenty miles in all that day. We were told then that the 
Middlesex would go over first -with us in support, and to 
their left the Second Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, 
with the Cameronians in support; the junior officers com- 
plained loudly at our not being given the honour of leading 


the attack. We were the senior regiment, they protested, 
and entitled to the ‘Right of the Line.’ We moved into 
trench sidings just in front of the village. There was about 
half a mile of communication trench between us and the 
trenches proper, known as Maison Rouge Alley. It was an 
hour or so past midnight. At half-past five the gas was to 
be discharged. We were cold, tired and sick, not at all in the 
mood for a battle. We tried to snatch an hour or two of sleep 
squatting in the trench. It had been raining for some time. 
Grey, watery dawn broke at last behind the German lines; 
the bombardment, which had been surprisingly slack all 
night, brisked up a little. ‘Why the devil don’t they send 
them over quicker.?’ asked The Actor. ‘This isn’t my idea 
of a bombardment. We’re getting nothing opposite us. 
What little there is is going into the Hohenzollern.’ ‘Shell 
shortage. Expected it,’ answered Thomas. We were told 
afterwards that on the a3rd a German aeroplane had bombed 
the Army Reserve shell-dump and sent it up. The bombard- 
ment on the 24th and on the day of the battle itself was 
nothing compared with that of the previous days. Thomas 
looked strained and ill. ‘It’s time they were sending that 
damned accessory off. I wonder what’s doing.’ 

What happened in the next few minutes is difficult for 
me now to sort out. It was more difficult still at the time. 
All we heard back there in the sidings was a distant cheer, 
confused crackle of rifle-fire, yells, heavy shelling on our 
front line, more shouts and yells and a continuous rattle of 
machine-guns. After a few minutes, lightly-wounded men 
of the Middlesex came stumbling down Maison Rouge 
Alley to the dressing-station. I was at the junction of the 
siding and the alley. ‘What’s happened.? What’s happened.?’ 
I asked. ‘Bloody balls-up’ was the most detailed answer 


I could get. Among the wounded were a number of men 
yellow-faced and choking, with their buttons tarnished 
green; these were gas cases. Then came the stretcher cases. 
Maison Rouge Alley was narrow and the stretchers had 
difficulty in getting down. The Germans started shelling 
it with five-point-nines. Thomas went through the shelling 
to battalion headquarters to ask for orders. It was the same 
place that I had visited on my first night in the trenches. 
This group of dug-outs in the reserve line showed very 
plainly from the air as battalion headquarters, and should 
never have been occupied on the day of a battle. Just before 
Thomas arrived the Germans put five shells into it. The 
adjutant jumped one way, the colonel another, the regimental 
sergeant-major a third. One shell went into the signals 
dug-out and destroyed the telephone. The colonel had a 
slight wound on his hand; he joined the stream of wounded 
and was carried as far as the base with it. The adjutant took 
charge. All this time A Company had been waiting in the 
siding for the rum to arrive; the tradition of every attack 
was a double tot of rum beforehand. All the other companies 
got it except ours. The Actor was cursing: ‘Where the 
bloody hell’s that storeman gone?’ We fixed bayonets in 
readiness to go up to the attack as soon as Thomas came back 
with orders. The A'ctor sent me along the siding to the other 
end of the company. The stream of wounded was continuous. 
At last Thomas’s orderly appeared, saying: ‘Captain’s orders, 
sir: A Company to move up to the front line.’ It seems that 
at that moment the storeman appeared with the rum. He 
was hugging the rum-bottle, without rifle or equipment, 
red-faced and retching. He staggered up to The Actor and 
said: ‘There you are, sir,’ then fell on his face in the thick 
mud of a sump-pit at the junction of the trench and the 


siding. The stopper of the bottle flew out and what was left 
of the three gallons bubbled on the ground. The Actor said 
nothing. It was a crime deserving the death-penalty. He 
put one foot on the storeman’s neck, the other in the small 
of his back, and trod him into the mud. Then he gave the 
order ‘Company forward. ’ The company went forward with a 
clatter of steel over the body, and that was the last heard of 
the storeman. 

What had happened in the front line was this. At half- 
past four the commander of the gas-company in the front 
line sent a telephone message through to divisional head- 
quarters: ‘Dead calm. Impossible discharge accessory.’ The 
answer came back: ‘Accessory to be discharged at all costs.’ 
Thomas’s estimate of the gas-company’s eflEiciency was right 
enough. The spanners for unscrewing the cocks of the 
cylinders were found, with two or three exceptions, to be 
misfits. The gas-men rushed about shouting and asking 
each other for the loan of an adjustable spanner. They dis- 
charged one or two cylinders with the spanners that they 
had; the gas went whistling out, formed a thick cloud a few 
yards away in No Man’s Land, and then gradually spread 
back into the trenches. The Germans had been expecting 
the attack. They immediately put their gas-helmets on, 
semi-rigid ones, better than ours. Bundles of oily cotton- 
waste were strewn along the German parapet and set alight 
as a barrier to the gas. Then their batteries opened 
on our lines. The confusion in the front trench was 
great; the shelling broke several of the gas-cylinders 
and the trench was soon full of gas. The gas-company 

No orders could come through because the shell in the 
signals dug-out at battalion headquarters had cut communica- 


tion both between companies and battalion headquarters 
and between battalion headquarters and division. The 
officers in the front trench had to decide on immediate action. 
Two companies of the Middlesex, instead of waiting for 
the intense bombardment which was to follow the forty 
minutes of gas, charged at once and got as far as the German 
wire — which our artillery had not yet attempted to cut. 
What shelling there had been on it was shrapnel and not 
high explosive; shrapnel was no use against barbed wire. 
The Germans shot the Middlesex men down. It is said that 
one platoon found a gap and got into the German trench. 
But there were no survivors of the platoon to confirm the 
story. The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders went over 
too, on their left. Two companies, instead of charging at 
once, rushed back to the support line out of the gas-filled 
front trench and attacked from there. It will be recalled that 
the front line had been pushed forward in preparation for 
the battle; these companies were therefore attacking from 
the old front line. The barbed wire entanglements in front 
of this trench had not been removed, so that they were caught 
and machine-gunned between their own front and support 
lines. The leading companies were equally unsuccessful. 
When the attack started, the German N.C.O.’s had jumped 
up on the parapet to encourage their men. It was a Jaeger 
regiment and their musketry was good. 

The survivors of the first two companies of the Middlesex 
were lying in shell-craters close to the German wire, sniping 
and making the Germans keep their heads down. They 
had bombs to throw, but these were nearly all of a new type 
issued for the battle; the fuses were lit on the match-and- 
matchbox principle and the rain had made them useless. 
The other two companies of the Middlesex soon followed 



in support. Machine-gun fire stopped them half-way. Only 
one German machine-gun was now in action, the others had 
been knocked out by rifle or trench-mortar fire. Why the 
single gun remained in action is a story in itself. 

It starts like this. British colonial governors and high- 
commissioners had the privilege of nominating one or two 
officers from their countries to be attached in war-time to 
the regular British forces. Under this scheme the officers 
appointed began as full lieutenants. The Governor-General 
of Jamaica (or whatever his proper style may be) nominated 
the eighteen-year-old son of a rich Jamaica planter. He 
was sent straight from Jamaica to the First Middlesex. 
He was good-hearted enough but of little use in the trenches. 
He had never been out of the island in his life and, except 
for a short service with the West Indian militia, knew nothing 
of soldiering. His company commander took a fatherly 
interest in Young Jamaica, as he was called, and tried to 
teach him his duties. This company commander was known 
as The Boy. He had twenty years’ service in the Middlesex, 
and the unusual boast of having held every rank from ‘boy’ 
to captain in the same company. His father, I believe, had 
been the regimental sergeant-major. The difficulty was that 
Jamaica was a full lieutenant and so senior to the other 
experienced subalterns in the company, who were only 
second-lieutenants. The colonel decided to shift Jamaica 
off on some course or extra-regimental appointment at the 
earliest opportunity. Somewhere about May or June he 
had been asked to supply an officer for the brigade trench- 
mortar company, and he had sent Jamaica. Trench-mortars 
at that time were dangerous and ineffective; so the appoint- 
ment seemed suitable. At the same time the Royal Welch 
Fusiliers had also been asked to detail an officer, and the 


colonel had sent Tiley, an ex-planter from Malay, who was 
what is called a fine natural soldier. He had been chosen 
because he was attached from another regiment and had 
showed his resentment at the manner of his welcome some- 
what too plainly. By September mortars had improved in 
design and become an important infantry arm; Jamaica 
was senior to Tiley and was therefore in the responsible 
position of commanding the company. 

When the Middlesex made the charge, The Boy was 
mortally wounded as he climbed over the parapet. He fell 
back and began crawling down the trench to the stretcher- 
bearers’ dug-out. He passed Jamaica’s trench-mortar em- 
placement. Jamaica had lost his gun-team and was serving 
the trench-mortars himself. When he saw The Boy he forgot 
about his guns and ran off to get a stretcher-party. Tiley 
meanwhile, on the other flank, opposite Mine Point, had 
knocked out the machine-guns within range. He went on 
until his gun burst. The machine-gun in the Pope’s Nose, 
a small salient opposite Jamaica, remained in action. 

It was at this point that the Royal Welch Fusiliers came 
up in support. Maison Rouge Alley was a nightmare; the 
Germans were shelling it with five-nines bursting with a 
black smoke and with lachrymatory shells. This caused a 
continual scramble backwards and forwards. There were 
cries and counter-cries: ‘Come on!’ ‘Get back, you bastards!’ 
‘Gas turning on us!’ ‘Keep your heads, you men!’ ‘Back 
like hell, boys.’ ‘Whose orders?’ ‘What’s happening?’ 
‘Gas!’ ‘Back!’ Come on!’ ‘Gas!’ ‘Back!’ Wounded men 
and stretcher-bearers were still trying to squeeze past. We 
were alternately putting on and taking off our gas-helmets 
and that made things worse. In many places the trench was 
filled in and we had to scramble over the top. Childe-Freeman 



got tip to the front line with only fifty men of B Company; 
the rest had lost their way in some abandoned trenches 
half-way up. The adjutant met him in the support line. 
‘You ready to go over, Freeman,?’ he asked. Freeman had 
to admit that he had lost most of his company. He felt this 
keenly as a disgrace; it was the first time that he had com- 
manded a company in battle. He decided to go over with 
his fifty men in support of the Middlesex. He blew his 
whistle and the company charged. They were stopped by 
machine-gun fire before they had passed our own entangle- 
ments. Freeman himself died, but of heart-failure, as he 
stood on the parapet. After a few minutes C Company 
and the remainder of B reached the front line. The gas- 
cylinders were still whistling and the trench full of dying 
men. Samson decided to go over; he would not have it said 
that the Royal Welch had let down the Middlesex. There 
was a strong comradely feeling between the Middlesex 
and the Royal Welch. The Royal Welch and Middlesex 
were drawn together in dislike of the Scots. The other 
three battalions in the brigade were Scottish, and the 
the brigadier was a Scot and, unjustly no doubt, accused 
of favouring them. Our adjutant voiced the general 
opinion: ‘The Jocks are all the same, the trousered variety 
and the bare-backed variety. They’re dirty in trenches, they 
skite too much, and they charge like hell - both ways.’ The 
Middlesex, who were the original Diehard battalion, had more 
than once, with the Royal Welch, considered themselves let 
down by the Jocks, ^o Samson with C and the rest of B Com- 
pany charged. One of the officers told me later what 
happened to himself. It had been agreed to advance by 
platoon rushes with supporting fire. When his platoon had 
run about twenty yards he signalled them to lie down and 


Open covering fire. The din was tremendous. He saw the 
platoon on the left flopping down too, so he whistled the 
advance again. Nobody seemed to hear. He jumped up 
from his shell-hole and waved and signalled ‘Forward.' 
Nobody stirred. He shouted: ‘You bloody cowards, are you 
leaving me to go alone?’ His platoon sergeant, groaning with 
a broken shoulder, gasped out: ‘Not cowards, sir. Willing 
enough. But they’re all f — ing dead.’ A machine-gun tra- 
versing had caught them as they rose to the whistle. 

Our company too had become separated by the shelling. 
The Surrey-man got a touch of gas and went coughing back. 
The Actor said he was skrim-shanking and didn’t want the 
battle. This was unfair. The Surrey-man looked properly 
sick. I do not know what happened to him, but I heard 
that the gas was not much and that he managed, a few 
months later, to get back to his own regiment in France. 
I found myself with The Actor in a narrow trench between 
the front and support lines. This trench had not been built 
wide enough for a stretcher to pass the bends. We came 
on The Boy lying on his stretcher wounded in the lungs and 
the stomach. Jamaica was standing over him in tears, 
blubbering: ‘Poor old Boy, poor old Boy, he’s going to die; 
I’m sure he is. He’s the only one who was decent to me.’ 
The Actor found we could not get by. He said to Jamaica: 
‘Take that poor sod out of the way, will you? I’ve got to 
get my company up. Put him into a dug-out or somewhere.’ 
Jamaica made no answer; he seemed paralysed by the horror 
of the occasion. He could only repeat: ‘Poor old Boy, poor 
old Boy.’ ‘Look here,’ said The Actor, ‘if you can’t shift 
him into a dug-out we’ll have to lift him on top of the 
trench. He can’t live now and we’re late getting up.’ ‘No, 
no,’ Jamaica shouted wildly. The Actor lost his temper 


and shook Jamaica roughly by the shoulders. ‘You’re the 
bloody trench-mortar wallah, aren’t you?’ he asked fiercely. 
Jamaica nodded miserably. ‘Well, your battery is a hundred 
yards from here. Why the hell aren’t you using your 
gas-pipes on that machine-gun in the Pope’s Nose? Buzz off 
back to them.’ And he kicked him down the trench. Then 
he called over his shoulder: ‘Sergeant Rose and Corporal 
Jennings, lift this stretcher up across the top of the trench. 
We’ve got to pass.’ Jamaica leaned against a traverse. ‘I do 
think you’re the most heartless beast I’ve ever met,’ he said 

,We went on up to the front line. It was full of dead and 
dying. The captain of the gas-company, who had kept his 
head and had a special oxygen respirator, had by now turned 
off the gas. Vermor el-sprayers had cleared out most of the 
gas, but we still had to wear our masks. We climbed up and 
crouched on the fire-step, where the gas was not so thick — gas 
was heavy stuff and kept low. Then Thomas arrived with 
the remainder of A Company and, with D, we waited for 
the whistle to follow the other two companies over. For- 
tunately at this moment the adjutant appeared. He told 
Thomas that he was now in command of the battalion and 
he didn’t care a damn about orders; he was going to cut his 
losses. He said he would not send A and D over until he 
got definite orders from brigade. He had sent a runner 
back because telephone communication was cut, and we 
must wait. Meanwhile the intense bombardment that was 
to follow the forty minutes’ discharge of gas began. It 
concentrated on the German front trench and wire. A good 
deal of it was short and we had further casualties in our 
trenches. The survivors of the Middlesex and of our B and 
C Companies in craters in No Man’s Land suffered heavily. 


My mouth was dry, my eyes out of focus, and my legs 
quaking under me. I found a water-bottle full of rum and 
drank about half a pint; it quieted me and my head remained 
clear. Samson was lying woxmded about twenty yards away 
from the front trench. Several attempts were made to get 
him in. He was very badly hit and groaning. Three men 
were killed in these attempts and two officers and two men 
wounded. Finally his own orderly managed to crawl out 
to him. Samson ordered him back, saying that he was riddled 
and not worth rescuing; he sent his apologies to the company 
for making such a noise. We waited for about a couple of 
hours for the order to charge. The men were silent and 
depressed. Sergeant Townsend was making feeble, bitter 
jokes about the good old British army muddling through 
and how he thanked God we still had a navy. I shared the 
rest of the rum with him and he cheered up a little. Finally a 
runner came with a message that the attack was off for the 

Rmnours came down the trenches of a disaster similar 
to our own in the brick-stack area, where the Fifth Brigade 
had gone over, and again at Givenchy, where it was said that 
men of the Sixth Brigade at the Duck’s Bill salient had 
fought their way into the enemy trenches, but had been 
bombed out, their own supply of bombs failing. It was said, 
however, that things were better on the right, where tha*e 
had been a slight wind to take the gas over. There was a 
rumoxir that the First, Seventh, and Forty-seventh Divisions 
had broken through. My memory of that day is hazy. We 
spent it getting the wounded down to the dressing-station, 
spraying the trenches and dug-outs to get rid of the gas, and 
clearing away the earth where trenches were blocked. The 
trenches stank with a gas-blood-lyddite-latrine smell. Late 

2o6 good-bye to all THAT CLxv 

in the afternoon we watched through our field-glasses the 
advance of the reserves towards Loos and Hill 70; it looked 
like a real break through. They were being heavily shelled. 
They were troops of the new-army division whose stalF we 
had messed with the night before. Immediately to the right 
of us was the Highland Division, whose exploits on that day 
Ian Hay has celebrated in The First Hundred Thousand^ I 
suppose that we were ‘the flat caps on the left’ who ‘let down’ 
his comrades-in-arms. 

As soon as it was dusk we all went out to get in the 
wounded. Only sentries were left in the line. The first 
dead body I came upon was Samson’s. I found that he had 
forced his knuckles into his mouth to stop himself crying 
out and attracting any more men to their death. He had 
been hit in seventeen places. Major Swainson, the second- 
in-command of the Middlesex, came crawling in from the 
German wire. He seemed to be wounded in the lungs, the 
stomach and a leg. Choate, a Middlesex second-lieutenant, 
appeared; he was unhurt, and together we bandaged Swain- 
son and got him into the trench and on a stretcher. He 
begged me to loosen his belt; I cut it with a bowie-knife that 
I had bought in B^thune for use in the fighting. He said: 
‘I’m about done for.’^ We spent all that night getting in the 
wounded of the Royal Welch, the Middlesex and those of 
the Argyll and Sutherland who had attacked from the front 
trench. The Germans behaved generously. I do not 
remember hearing a shot fired that night, and we kept on 

^ Major Swainson recovered quickly and was back at the Middlesex 
Depot after a few weeks. On tiie oAer band, Lawrie, a Royal Welch 
company quartermaster-sergeant back at Cambrin, was hit in the neck that 
day by a spent machine-gun bullet which just pierced the skin, and died of 
jhock a few hours later. 


until it was nearly dawn and we could be plainly seen; then 
they fired a few shots in warning and we gave it up. By 
this time we had got in all the wounded and most of the 
Royal Welch dead. I was surprised at some of the attitudes 
in which the dead had stiffened — in the act of bandaging 
friends’ wounds, crawling, cutting wire. The Argyll and 
Sutherland had seven hundred casualties, including fourteen 
officers killed out of the sixteen that went over; the Middlesex 
five hundred and fifty casualties, including eleven officers 

Two other Middlesex officers besides Choate were un- 
wounded; their names were Henry and Hill, second- 
lieutenants who had recently come with commissions from, 
I think, the Artists’ Rifles; their welcome in the Middlesex 
had been something like mine in the Royal Welch. They 
had been lying out in shell-holes in the rain all day, sniping 
and being sniped at. Henry, according to Hill, had dragged 
five wounded men into his shell-hole and thrown up a sort 
of parapet with his hands and a bowie-knife that he was 
carrying. Hill had his platoon sergeant with him, screaming 
for hours with a stomach wound, begging for morphia; he 
was dying, so Hill gave him five pellets. We always carried 
morphia with us for emergencies like this. When Choate, 
Henry and Hill arrived back in the trenches with a few 
stragglers they reported at the Middlesex headquarters. 
Hill told me the story. The colonel and the adjutant were 
sitting down to a meat pie when he and Henry arrived, 
Henry said: ‘Come to report, sir. Ourselves and about 
ninety men of all companies. Mr. Choate is back, un- 
wounded, too.’ They looked up dully. The colonel said: 
‘So you’ve come back, have you.'' Well, all the rest are dead. 
I suppose Mr. Choate had better command what’s left of 

2 o 8 good-bye to all THAT Ckxv 

A Company, the bombing officer will command what’s left 
of B (the bombing officer had not gone over but remained 
with headquarters), Mr. Henry goes to C Company, Mr. 
Hill to D. The Royal Welch are holding the front line. 
We are here in support. Let me know where to find you 
if I want you. Good night.’ There was no offer to have a 
piece of meat pie or a drink of whisky, so they saluted and 
went miserably out. They were called back by the adjutant. 
‘Mr. Hill! Mr. Henry!’ ‘Sir.?’ Hill said that he expected a 
change of mind as to the propriety with which hospitality 
could be offered by a regular colonel and adjutant to tem- 
porary second-lieutenants in distress. But it was only to say: 
‘Mr. Hill, Mr. Henry, I saw some men in the trench just 
now with their shoulder-straps unbuttoned and their equip- 
ment fastened anyhow. See that this practice does not occur 
in future. That’s all.’ Henry heard the colonel from his 
bunk complaining that he had only two blankets and that it 
was a deucedly cold night. Choate arrived a few minutes 
later and reported; the others had told him of their reception. 
After he had saluted and reported that Major Swainson, 
who had been thought killed, was wounded and on the way 
down to the dressing-station, he leaned over the table, cut 
a large piece of meat pie and began eating it. This caused 
such surprise that nothing further was said. He finished his 
meat pie and drank a glass of whisky, saluted, and joined 
the others. 

Meanwhile, I had been given command of the survivors 
of B Company. There were only six company officers left 
in the Royal Welch. Next morning there were only five. 
Thomas was killed by a sniper. He was despondently 
watching the return of the new-army troops on the right. 
They had been pushed blindly into the gap made by the 


advance of the Seventh and Forty-seventh Divisions on the 
previous afternoon; they did not know where they were or 
what they were supposed to do; their ration supply had 
broken down. So they flocked back, not in a panic, but 
stupidly, like a crowd coming back from a cup final. Shrapnel 
was bursting above them. We noticed that the oflicers were 
in groups of their own. We could scarcely believe our eyes, 
it was so odd. Thomas need not have been killed; but he 
was in the sort of mood in which he seemed not to care one 
way or the other. The Actor took command of A. We 
lumped our companies together after a couple of days for 
the sake of relieving each other on night watch and getting 
some sleep. The first night I agreed to take the first watch, 
waking him up at midnight. When I went to call him I 
could not wake him up; I tried everything. I shook him, 
shouted in his ear, poured water over him, banged his head 
against the side of the bed. Finally I threw him on the floor. 
I was desperate for want of sleep myself, but he was in a 
depth of sleep from which nothing could shake him, so I 
heaved him back on the bunk and had to finish the night out 
myself. Even ‘Stand-tol’ failed to arouse him. I woke him 
at last at nine o’clock in the morning and he was furious 
with me for not having waked him at midnight. 

The day after the attack we spent carrying the dead down 
to burial and cleaning the trench up as well as we could^ 
That night the Middlesex held the line while the Royal 
Welch carried all the vmbroken gas-cylinders along to a 
position on the left flank of the brigade, where the;^ were to 
be used on the following night, September 27th. This was 
worse than carrying the dead; the cylinders were cast-iron 
and very heavy and we hated them. The men cursed and 
sulked, but got the carrying done. Orders came that we were 



to attack again. Only the officers knew; the men were only 
to be told just beforehand. It was difficult for me to keep 
up appearances with the men; I felt like screaming. It was 
still raining, harder than ever. We knew definitely this 
time that ours was only a subsidiary night attack, a diversion 
to help a division on our right to make the real attack. The 
scheme was the same as before. At four p.m. the gas was to 
be discharged again for forty minutes, then came a quarter 
of an hour’s bombardment, and then the attack. I broke the 
news to the men about three o’clock. They took it very well. 
The relations of officers and men, and of senior and junior 
officers, had been very different in the excitement of the 
attack. There had been no insubordination, but a greater 
freedom, as if everyone was drunk together. I found myself 
calling the adjutant Charley on one occasion; he appeared 
not to mind it in the least. For the next ten days my relations 
with my men were like those I had with the Welsh Regiment; 
later discipline reasserted itself and it was only occasionally 
that I found them intimate. 

At four p.m., then, the gas went off again. There was a 
strong wind and it went over well; the gas-men had brought 
enough spanners this time. The Germans were absolutely 
silent. Flares went up from the reserve lines and it seemed 
as though all the men in the front line were dead. The 
brigadier decided not to take too much for granted; after the 
bombardment he sent out twenty-five men and an officer of 
the Cameronians as a feeling-patrol. The patrol reached the 
German wire; there was a burst of machine-gun and rifle 
fire and only two wounded men regained the trench. We 
waited on the fire-step from four to nine o’clock, with fixed 
bayonets, for the order to go over. My mind was a blank 
except for the recurrence of ‘S’nice smince spie, s’nice 


smince spie. ... I don’t like ham, Iamb or jam and I don’t 
like roley-poley. . . The men laughed at my singing. 
The sergeant who was acting company sergeant-major said 
to me: ‘It’s murder, sir.’ ‘Of course it’s murder, you bloody 
fool,’ I agreed. ‘But there’s nothing else for it, is there?’ 
It was still raining. ‘But when I see’s a s’nice smince spie, 
I asks for a helping twice. . . .’ At nine o’clock we were 
told that the attack was put off; we were told to hold ourselves 
in readiness to attack at dawn. 

No order came at dawn. And no more attacks were 
promised us after this. From the morning of September 24th 
to the night of October 3rd I had in all eight hours of sleep. 
I kept myself awake and alive by drinking about a bottle of 
whisky a day. I had never drank it before and have seldom 
drank it since; it certainly was good then. We had no 
blankets, greatcoats, or waterproof sheets. We had no time 
or material to build new shelters, and the rain continued. 
Every night we went out to get in the dead of the other 
battalions. The Germans continued to be indulgent and we 
had few casualties. After the first day or two the bodies 
swelled and stank. I vomited more than once while super- 
intending the carrying. The ones that we could not get in 
from the German wire continued to swell until the wall of 
the stomach collapsed, either naturally or punctured by a 
bullet; a disgusting smell would float across. The colour 
of the dead faces changed from white to yellow-grey, to red, 
to purple, to green, to black, to slimy. 

On the morning of the 27 th a cry was heard from No 
Man’s Land. It was a wounded man of the Middlesex who 
had recovered consciousness after two days. He was close 
to the German wire. Our men heard it and looked at each 
other. We had a lance-corporal called Baxter and he was 

Ct. XV 


tender-hearted. He was the man to boil up a special dixie of 
tea for the sentries of his section when they came off duty. 
When he heard the wounded man cry out he ran up and 
down the trench calling for a volunteer to come out with 
him and bring the man in. Of course no one would go; it 
was death to put one’s head over the trench. He came 
running to ask me. I excused myself as the only ofEcer in 
the company. I said I would come out with him at dusk, 
but I would not go now. So he went out himself. He 
jumped quickly over the parapet, then strolled across waving 
a handkerchief; the Germans fired at him to frighten him, 
but he came on, so they let him come up close. They must 
have heard the Middlesex man themselves. Baxter continued 
towards them and, when he got up to the Middlesex man, he 
stopped and pointed to show the Germans what he was at. 
Then he dressed the man’s wounds, gave him a drink of 
rum and some biscuit that he had with him, and told him 
that he would come back again for him in the evening. He 
did come back for him with a stretcher-party and the man 
eventually recovered. I recommended Baxter for the Victoria 
Cross, being the only officer who had seen the thing done; 
but he only got a Distinguished Conduct Medal. 

The Actor and I had decided to get into touch with the 
battalion on our right. It was the Tenth Highland Light 
Infantry. I went down their trench some time in the morning 
of the 26th. I walked nearly a quarter of a mile before seeing 
either a sentry or an officer. There were dead men, sleeping 
men, wounded men, gassed men, all lying anyhow. The 
trench had been used as a latrine. Finally I met a Royal 
Engineer officer. He said to me: ‘If the Boche knew what 
an easy job it was, he’d just walk over and take this trench.’ 
So I came back and told The Actor that we might expect 


to have our flank in the air at any moment. We turned the 
communication trench that made the boundary between the 
two battalions into a fire-trench facing right; a machine-gun 
was mounted to put up a barrage in case they ran. On the 
night of the 27th the Highlanders mistook some of our 
men, who were out in No Man’s Land getting in the dead, 
for the enemy. They began firing wildly. The Germans 
retaliated. Our men caught the infection, but were at once 
told to cease fire. ‘Cease fire’ went along the trench until 
it came to the H.L.I., who misheard it as ‘Retire.’ A panic 
seized them and they came rushing back. Fortunately they 
came down the trench instead of over the top. They were 
stopped by a sergeant of the Fifth Scottish Rifles, a territorial 
battalion now in support to ourselves and the Middlesex. 
He chased them back into their trench at the point of the 

On the 3rd of October we were relieved. The relieving 
troops were a composite battalion consisting of about a 
hundred men of the Second Royal Warwickshire Regiment 
and about seventy Royal Welch Fusiliers, all that was left 
of our own First Battalion. Hanmer Jones and Frank 
Jones-Bateman had both been wounded. Frank had his 
thigh broken with a rifle-bullet while stripping the equipment 
off a wounded man in No Man’s Land; the cartridges in 
the man’s pouches had been set on fire by a shot and were 
exploding.^ We went back to Sailly la Bourse for a couple 
of days, where the colonel rejoined us with his bandaged 
hand, and then further back to Annezin, a little village near 
B^thune, where I lodged in a two-roomed cottage with an 
old woman called Adelphine Heu. 

^ He was recommended for a Victoria Cross but got nothing because no 
officer evidence, which is a condition of award, was available. 


At Annezin we reorganized. Some of the lightly wounded 
rejoined for duty and a big draft from the Third Battalion 
arrived, so that in a week’s time we were nearly seven 
hundred strong, with a full complement of officers. Old 
Adelphine made me comfortable. She used to come into my 
room in the morning when I was shaving and tell me the 
local gossip — how stingy her daughter-in-law was, and what 
a rogue the Maire was, and about the woman at Fouqui^res 
who had just been delivered of black twins. She said that 
the Kaiser was a bitch and spat on the floor to confirm it. 
Her favourite subject was the shamelessness of modern girls. 
Yet she herself had been gay and beautiful and much sought 
after when she was young she said. She had been in service 
as lady’s maid to a rich draper’s wife of B^thune, and had 
travelled widely with her in the surrounding country, and 
even over the border into Belgium. She asked me about the 
various villages in which I had recently been billeted, and 
told me scandal about the important families who used 
to live in each. She asked me if I had been in La Bass^e; 
she did not realize that it was in the hands of the enemy. 
I said no, but I had tried to visit it recently and had been 
detained. ‘Do you know Auchy, then?’ I said that I had seen 
it often from a distance. ‘Then perhaps you know a big 
farm-house between Auchy and Cambrin called Les Briques 
Farm?’ I said, startled, that I knew it very well, and that it 
was a strong place with a moat and cellars and a kitchen 
garden now full of barbed wire. She said; ‘Then I shal l tell 
you. I was staying there in 1870. It was the year of the 
other war and there was at the house a handsome young 
feAt<aporal who was fond of me. So because he was a nice 



boy and because it was the war, we slept together and I had 
a baby. But God punished me and the baby died. That’s a 
long time ago.’ 

She told me that all the girls in Annezin prayed every night 
for the war to end and for the English to go away as soon 
as their money was spent. She said that the clause about the 
money was always repeated in case God should miss it. 

Troops serving in the Pas de Calais loathed the French; 
except for occasional members of the official class, we found 
them thoroughly unlikeable people, and it was difficult to 
sympathize with their misfortunes. They had all the short- 
comings of a border people. I wrote home about this 

T find it very difficult to love the French here. Even 
when we have been billeted in villages where no troops have 
been before, I have not met a single case of the hospitality 
that one meets among the peasants of other countries. It is 
worse than inhospitaJity here, for after all we are fighting 
for their dirty little lives. They suck enormous quantities of 
money out of us too. Calculate how much has flowed into 
the villages around B^thune, which for many months now 
have been continuously housing about a hundred thousand 
men. Apart from the money that they get paid directly as 
billeting allowance, there is the pay that the troops spend. 
Every private soldier gets his five-franc note (nearly four 
shillings) every ten days, and spends it on eggs, coffee, and 
beer in the local estaminets; the prices are ridiculous and the 
stuff bad. In the brewery at B6thune, the other day, I saw 
barrels of already thin beer being watered from the canal 
with a hose-pipe. The ej/<*w/«g/-keepers water it further.’ 
(The fortunes made in the war were consolidated after the 
Versailles Treaty, when every peasant in the devastated areas 

2i 5 GOOD-BYE TO ALL THAT Ch. xvi 

staked preposterous compensation claims for the loss of 
possessions that he had never had.) It was surprising that 
there were so few clashes between the British and French as 
there were. The Pas de Calais French hated us and were 
convinced that when the war was over we intended to stay 
and hold the Channel ports. It was impossible for us at the 
time to realize that it was all the same to the peasants whether 
they were on the German or the British side of the line - it 
was a foreign military occupation anyhow. They were not 
at all interested in the sacrifices that we were making for 
‘their dirty little lives.’ Also, we were shocked at the 
severity of French national accountancy; when we were 
told, for instance, that every British hospital train, the 
locomotive and carriages of which had been imported from 
England, had to pay a £200 fee for use of the rails on each 
journey they made from railhead to base. 

The fighting was still going on around Loos. We could 
hear the guns in the distance, but it was clear that the thrust 
had failed and that we were now skirmishing for local 
advantages. But on October 1 3th there was a final flare-up; 
the noise of the guns was so great that even the inhabitants 
of Annezin, accustomed to these alarms, were properly 
frightened, and began packing up in case the Germans 
broke through. Old Adelphine was in tears with fright. 
Early that afternoon I was in B^thune at the Globe drinking 
champagne-cocktails with some friends who had joined from 
the Third Battalion, when the assistant provost-marshal put 
his head in the door and called out: ‘Any ofiicers of the 
Fifth, Sixth, or Nineteenth Brigades here?’ We jumped up. 
‘You are to return at once to your units.’ ‘Oh God,’ said 
Robertson, ‘that means another show.’ Robertson had been 
in D Company and so escaped the charge. ‘We’ll be pushed 


over the top to-night to reinforce someone, and that’ll be the 
end of us.’ 

We hurried back to Annezin and found everything in 
confusion. ‘We’re standing-to — at half an hour’s notice for 
the trenches,’ we were told. We packed up hastily and in a 
few minutes the whole battalion was out in the road in 
fighting order. We were to go up to the Hohenzollern 
Redoubt and were now issued with new trench maps of it. 
The men vere in high spirits, even the survivors of the 
show. They were singing songs to the accompaniment of an 
accordion and a penny whistle. Only at one time, when 
a ‘mad-minute’ of artillery noise was reached, they stopped 
and looked at each other, and Sergeant Townsend said 
sententiously: ‘That’s the charge. Many good fellows going 
west at this moment; maybe chums of ours.’ Gradually the 
noise died down, and a message came at last from brigade 
that we would not be needed. It had been another dud 
show, chiefly to be remembered for the death of Charles 
Sorley, a captain in the SufFolks, one of the three poets of 
importance killed in the war. (The other two were Isaac 
Rosenberg and Wilfred Owen.) 

This ended the operations for 1 9 1 5. Tension was relaxed. 
We returned to battalion mess, to company drill, and to 
riding-school for the young ofiicers. It was as though there 
had been no battle except that the senior officers were fewer 
and the Special Reserve element larger. Two or three days 
later we were back in trenches in the same sector. In October 
I was gazetted a captain in the Third (Special Reserve) 
Battalion. Promotion in the Third Battalion was rapid for 
subalterns who had joined early, because the battalion had 
trebled its strength and so was entitled to three times as 
many captains as before. It was good to have my pay go up 



several shillings a day, with an increase of war bonus and 
possible gratuity and pension if I were wounded, but I did 
not consider that side of it much. It was rank that was 
elFective overseas. And here I was promoted captain over 
the heads of officers who had longer trench service and were 
older and better trained than myself. I went to the adjutant 
and offered not to wear the badges of rank while serving 
with the battalion. He said not unkindly: ‘No, put your 
stars up. It can’t be helped.’ I knew that he and the colonel 
had no use for Special Reserve captains unless they were 
outstandingly good, and would not hesitate to get rid of 

A Special Reserve major and captain had been recently 
sent home from the First Battalion, with a confidential 
report of inefficiency. I was anxious to avoid any such 
disgrace. Nor was my anxiety unfounded; shortly after I 
left the Second Battalion two other Special Reserve captains, 
one of whom had been promoted at the same time as myself, 
were sent back as ‘likely to be of more service in the training 
of troops at home.’ One of them was, I know, more efficient 
than I was. 

I was in such a depressed state of nerves now that if I had 
gone into the trenches as a company officer I should probably 
have modified my formula for taking risks. Fortunately, 
I had a rest from the front line, being attached to the brigade 
sappers. Hill of the Middlesex was also having this relief. 
He told me that the Middlesex colonel had made a speech to 
the survivors of the battalion as soon as they were back in 
billets, telling them that the battalion had been unfortunate 
but would soon be given an opportunity of avenging its 
dead and making a fresh and, this time he hoped, successful 
attack upon La Bass^e. ‘I ^ow you Diehardsl You will 


go like lions over the top.’ Hill’s servant had whispered 
confidentially to Hill: ‘Not on purpose I don’t, sir!’ The 
sapping company specialized in maintaining communication 
and reserve trenches in good repair. I was with it for a 
month before being returned to ordinary company duty. 
My recall was a punishment for failing, one day when we 
were in billets, to observe a paragraph in battalion orders 
requiring my presence on battalion parade. 

My remaining trench service with the Second Battalion 
this autumn was uneventful. There was no excitement left 
in patrolling, no horror in the continual experience of death. 
The single recordable incident I recall was one of purely 
technical interest, a new method that an officer named Owen 
and myself invented for dealing with machine-guns firing at 
night. The method was to give each sentry a piece of string 
about a yard long, with a cartridge tied at each end; when the 
machine-gun started firing, sentries who were furthest from 
the fire would stretch the string in the direction of the 
machine-gun and peg it down with the points of the 
cartridges. This gave a pretty accurate line on the machine- 
gun. When we had about thirty or more of these lines taken 
on a single machine-gun we fixed rifles as accurately as 
possible along them and waited for it; as soon as it started 
we opened five rounds rapid. This gave a close concentration 
of fire and no element of nervousness could disturb the aim, 
the rifles being secured between sandbags. Divisional 
headquarters asked us for a report of the method. There 
was a daily exchange of courtesies between our machine- 
guns and the Germans’ at stand-to; by removing cartridges 
from the ammunition belt it was possible to rap out the 
rhythm of the familiar call; ‘Me — et me do — ^wn in Pi — cca- 
di — 11 — ^y,’ to which the Germans would reply, though in 


Ch, XVI 


slower tempo, because our guns were faster than theirs; 
‘Se — e you da — ^mned to He — 11 first.’ 

It was late in this October that I was sent a press-cutting 
from John Bull. Horatio Bottomley, the editor, was protest- 
ing against the unequal treatment for criminal offences meted 
out to commoners and aristocrats. A young man, he said, 
convicted in the police-court of a criminal offence was merely 
bound over and put in the care of a physician - because he 
was the grandson of an earl! An offender not belonging to 
the influential classes would have been given three months 
without the option of a fine. The article described in some 
detail how Dick, a sixteen-year old boy, had made ‘a certain 
proposal’ to a corporal in a Canadian regiment stationed near 
‘Charterhouse College, ’ and how the corporal had very properly 
given him in charge of the police. This news was nearly the 
end of me. I decided thatDick hadbeen driven outof his mind 
by the war. There was madness in the family, I knew; he had 
once shown me a letter from his grandfather scrawled in circles 
all over the page. It would be easy to think of him as dead. 

I had now been in the trenches for five months and was 
getting past my prime. For the first three weeks an officer 
was not much good in the trenches; he did not know his 
way about, had not learned the rules of health and safety, and 
was not yet accustomed to recognizing degrees of danger. 
Between three weeks and four months he was at his best, 
unless he happened to have any particular bad shock or 
sequence of shocks. Then he began gradually to decline in 
usefulness as neurasthenia developed in him. At six months 
he was still more or less all right; but by nine or ten months, 
unless he had a few weeks’ rest on a technical course or in 
hospital, he began to be a drag on the other members of the 
company. After a year or fifteen months he was often worse 


than useless. Officers had a less laborious but a more 
nervous time than the men. There were proportionately 
twice as many neurasthenic cases among officers as among 
men, though the average life of a man before getting killed 
or wounded was twice as long as an officer’s. Officers between 
the ages of twenty-three and thirty-three had a longer useful 
life than those older or younger. I was too young. Men over 
forty, though they did not suffer from the want of sleep so 
much as those under twenty, had less resistance to the sudden 
alarms and shocks. Dr. W. H. R. Rivers told me later that 
the action of one of the ductless glands — I think the thyroid — 
accounted for this decline in military usefulness. It pumped 
its chemical into the blood as a sedative for tortured nerves; 
this process went on until the condition of the blood was 
permanently affected and a man went about his tasks in a 
stupid and doped way, cheated into further endurance. 
It has taken some ten years for my blood to run at all clean. 
The unfortunates were the officers who had two years or 
more continuous trench service. In many cases they became 
dipsomaniacs. I knew three or four officers who had worked 
up to the point of two bottles of whisky a day before they 
were lucky enough to get wounded or sent home in some 
other way. A two-bottle company commander of one of 
our line battalions still happens to be alive who, in three 
shows running, got his company needlessly destroyed because 
he was no longer capable of taking clear decisions. 

Aside from wounds, gas, and the accidents of war, the life 
of the trench soldier was, for the most part, not unhealthy. 
Food was plentiful and hard work in the open air made up 
for the discomfort of wet feet and clothes and draughty 
billets. A continual need for alertness discouraged minor 
illnesses; a cold was thrown off in a few hours, an attack of 

Ch. XVI 


indigestion was hardly noticed. This was true, at least, in 
a good battalion, where the men were bent on going home 
either with an honourable wound or not at all. In an inferior 
battalion the men would prefer a wound to bronchitis, but 
would not mind the bronchitis. In a bad battalion they did 
not care ‘whether,’ in the trench phrase, ‘the cow calved or 
the bull broke its bloody neck.’ In a really good battalion, 
as the Second Battalion was when I went to it first, the 
question of getting wounded and going home was not per- 
mitted to be raised. Such a battalion had a very small sick 
list. In the 19 14— 1 5 winter there were no more than four or 
five casualties from ‘trench feet’ in the Second, and the follow- 
ing winter no more than eight or nine; the don’t-care 
battalions lost very heavily indeed. Trench feet was almost 
entirely a matter of morale, in spite of the lecture-formula 
that N.C.O.’s and officers used to repeat time after time to 
the men: ‘Trench feet is caused by tight boots, tight puttees 
or any other clothing calculated to interfere with the circula- 
tion of blood in the legs.’ Trench feet was caused rather 
by going to sleep with wet boots, cold feet, and depression. 
Wet boots, by themselves, did not matter. If the man warmed 
his feet at a brazier or stamped them until they were warm 
and then went off to sleep with a sandbag tied round them 
he took no harm. He might even fall asleep with cold, wet 
feet, and they might swell slightly owing to tightness of 
boots or puttees; but trench feet only came if he did not mind 
getting trench feet or anything else, because his battalion 
had lost the power of sticHng things out. At Bouchavesnes 
on the Somme in the winter of 1916-17 a battalion of dis- 
mounted cavalry lost half its strength in two days from 
trench feet; our Second Battalion had just had ten days in 
the same trenches vdth no cases at all. 


Autumn was melancholy in the La Bass^ sector; in the 
big poplar forests the leaves were French yellow and the 
dykes were overflowing and the ground utterly sodden. 
Bethune was not the place it had been; the Canadians 
billeted there drew two or three times as much pay as our 
own troops and had sent the prices up. But it was still more 
or less intact and one could still get cream buns and fish 

In November I had orders to join the First Battalion, 
which was reorganizing after the Loos fighting. I was 
delighted. I found it in billets at Locon, behind Festubert, 
which was only a mile or two to the north of Cambrin. The 
difference between the two battalions continued markedly 
throughout the war, however many times each battalion got 
broken. The difference was that the Second Battalion at the 
outbreak of war had just finished its eighteen years overseas 
tour, while the First Battalion had not been out of England 
since the South African War. The First Battalion was, 
therefore, less old-fashioned in its militarism and more 
human; livers were better; the men had dealings with white 
women and not with brown. It would have been impossible 
in the First Battalion to see what I once saw in the Second — 
a senior officer pursidng a private soldier down the street, 
kicking his bottom because he had been slack in saluting. 
The First Battalion was as efiicient and as regimental, on 
the whole more successful in its fighting, and a much easier 
battalion to live in. 

The battalion already had its new company commanders 
and I went as second-captain to young Richardson of A 
Company. He was from Sandhurst, and his company was 
one of the best that I was ever with. They were largely 
Welshmen of 1915 enlistment. None of the officers in the 


Ch, XVI 


company were more than twenty-two or twenty-three years 
old. A day or two after I arrived I went to visit C Company, 
where a Third Battalion officer whom I knew was com- 
manding. The C’s greeted me in a friendly way. As we 
were talking I noticed a book lying on the table. It was the 
first book (except my Keats and Blake) that I had seen since 
I ramp to France that was not either a military text-book or 
a rubbish novel. It was the Essays of Lionel Johnson. When 
I had a chance I stole a look at the fly-leaf, and the name was 
Siegfried Sassoon. I looked round to see who could possibly 
be called Siegfried Sassoon and bring Lionel Johnson with 
him to the First Battalion. He was obvious, so I got into 
conversation with him, and a few minutes later we were 
walking to B6thune, being off duty until that night, and 
talking about poetry. Siegfried had, at the time, published 
nothing except a few privately-printed pastoral pieces of 
eighteen-ninetyish flavour and a satire on Masefield which, 
about half-way through, had forgotten to be a satire and was 
rather good Masefield. We went to the cake shop and ate 
cream buns. At this time I was getting my first book of 
poems. Over the Brazier, ready for the press; I had one or 
two drafts in my pocket-book and showed them to Siegfried, 
He told me that they were too realistic and that war should 
not be written about in a realistic way. In return he showed 
me some of his own poems. One of them began: 

Return to greet me, coloxirs that were my joy, 

Not in the woeful crimson of men slain. . . . 

This was before Siegfried had been in the trenches. I told 
him, in my old-soldier manner, that he would soon change 
his style. 


That night the whole battalion went up to work at a new 
defence scheme at Festubert, Festubert was nightmare, and 
had been so since the first fighting there in 1914, when the 
inmates of its lunatic asylum had been caught between two 
fires and broken out and run all over the countryside. The 
British trench line went across a stretch of ground marked 
on the map as ‘Marsh, sometimes dry in the summer.’ It 
consisted of islands of high-command trench, with no com- 
munication between them except at night, and was a 
murderous place for patrols. The battalion had been nearly 
wiped out here six months previously. We were set to build 
up a strong reserve line. It was freezing hard and we were 
unable to make any progress on the frozen ground. We 
came here night after night. We raised a couple of hundred 
yards of trench about two or three feet high, at the cost of 
several men wounded from casual shots skimming the trench 
in front of us. Work was resumed by other troops when the 
thaw came and a thick seven foot-high ramp built. We were 
told later that it gradually sank down into the marsh, and 
in the end was completely engulfed. 

When I left the Second Battalion I was permitted to take 
my servant. Private Fahy (known as Tottie Fay, after the 
actress), with me. Tottie was a reservist from Birmingham 
who had been called up when war broke out, and had been 
with the Second Battalion ever since. By trade he was a 
silversmith and he had recently, when on leave, made a 
cigarette case and engraved it with my name as a present. 
He worked well and we liked each other. When he arrived 
at the First Battalion he met a Sergeant Dickens who had 
been his boozing chmn in India seven or eight years back; 
so they celebrated it. The next morning I was surprised 
to find my buttons not polished and no hot water for shaving. 



I was annoyed; it made me late for breakfast. I could get no 
news of Tottie. On my way to rifle inspection at nine o’clock 
at the company billet I noticed something unusual at the 
corner of a farm-yard. It was Field Punishment No. i being 
carried out - my first sight of it. Tottie was the victim. He 
had been awarded twenty-eight days for ‘drunkenness in the 
field.’ He was spread-eagled to the wheel of a company 
limber, tied by the ankles and wrists in the form of an X. 
He remained in this position - ‘Crucifixion,’ they called 
it - for several hours a day; I forget how many, but it was a 
good working-day. The sentence was to be carried out for 
as long as the battalion remained in billets, and was to be 
continued after the next spell of trenches. I shall never forget 
the look that Tottie gave me. He was a quiet, respectful, 
devoted servant, and he wanted to tell me that he was sorry 
for having let me down. His immediate reaction was an 
attempt to salute; I could see him try to lift his hand to his 
forehead, and bring his heels together, but he could do 
nothing; his eyes filled with tears. The battalion police- 
sergeant, a fierce-looking man, had just finished knotting 
him up when I arrived. I told Tottie that I was sorry to see 
him in trouble. That drink, as it proved, did him good in 
the end. I had to find another servant. Old Joe, the quarter- 
master, knowing that Tottie was the only trained officer’s 
servant in the battalion, took him from me when his sentence 
expired; he even induced the colonel to remit a few days of it. 
Tottie was safer in billets with Old Joe than in trenches 
with me. Some time in the summer of the following year his 
seven years’ contract as a reservist expired. When their 
‘buckshee seven’ expired, reservists were sent home for a 
few days and then ‘deemed to have re-enlisted under the 
Military Service Act,’ and recalled to the battalion. But 


Tottie made good use of his leave. His brother-in-law was 
director of a munitions factory and took Tottie in as a skilled 
metal-worker. He was made a starred man — his work was 
so important to industry that he could not be spared for 
military service, so Tottie is, I hope, still alive. Good luck 
to him and to Birmingham. Sergeant Dickens was a dilFerent 
case. He was a fighter, and one of the best N.C.O.’s in either 
battalion of the regiment. He had been awarded the d.c.m. 
and Bar, the Military Medal and the French M^daille 
Militaire. Two or three times already he had been promoted 
to sergeant’s rank and each time been reduced for drunken- 
ness. He escaped field-punishment because it was considered 
sufficient for him to lose his stripes, and whenever there 
was a battle Dickens would distinguish himself so con- 
spicuously as a leader that he would be given his stripes 
back again. 

Early in December the nimoiu- came that we were going 
for divisional training to the back areas. I would not believe 
it, having heard stories of this kind too often, and was 
sxrrprised when it turned out to be true. Siegfried Sassoon, 
in his Memoirs of a Fox-hunting Man., has described this 
battalion move. It was an even more laborious experience 
for our A Company than for his C Company. We got up 
at five o’clock one morning, breakfasted hastily, packed our 
kits, and marched down to the railhead three miles away. 
Here we had the task of entraining all the battalion stores, 
transport and transport-animals. This took us to the middle 
of the morning. We then entrained ourselves for a ten-hour 
journey to a junction on the Somme about twenty miles 
away from the front line. The officers travelled in third-class 
apartments, the men in closed trucks marked: ‘Hommes 40, 
chevaux 8’ -they were very stiff when they arrived. ‘A’ 

Ch. XVI 


Company was called on to do the detraining job too. When 
we had finished, the dixies of tea prepared for us were all 
cold. The other companies had been resting for a couple 
of hours; we had only a few minutes. The march was along 
pave roads and the rough chalk tracks of the Picardy 
downland. It started about midnight and finished about six 
o’clock next morning, the men carrying their packs and 
rifles. There was a competition between the companies as 
to which would have the fewest men falling out; A won. 
The village we finally arrived at was called Montagne le 
Fayel. No troops had been billeted here before, and its 
inhabitants were annoyed at being knocked up in the middle 
of the night by our advance-guard to provide accommodation 
for eight hundred men at two hours’ notice. We found these 
Picard peasants much more likeable than the Pas de Calais 
people. I was billeted with an old man called Monsieur Elie 
Caron, a retired schoolmaster with a bright eye and white 
hair. He lived entirely on vegetables, and gave me a vege- 
tarian pamphlet entitled Comment Vivre Cent Ans. We 
already knew of the coming Somme offensive, so this was 
a good joke. He also gave me Longfellow’s Evangeline in 
English. I have always been sorry for English books stranded 
in France, whatever their demerits; so I accepted it and later 
brought it home. 

We were at Montagne for six weeks. The colonel, who 
appears in Siegfried’s book as Colonel Winchell, was known 
in the regiment as Scatter, short for Scatter-cash, because 
when he first joined the regiment he had been so lavish with 
his allowance. Scatter put the battalion through its paces 
with peace-time severity. He asked us to forget the trenches 
and to fit ourselves for the open warfare that was bound to 
come once the Somme defences were pierced. Every other 

Ch. XVI 



day was a field-day; we were back again in spirit to General 
Haking’s Company Training, Even those of us who did not 
believe in the break-through thoroughly enjoyed these field- 
days. The guns could only just be heard in the distance, it 
was quite unspoilt country, and every man in the battalion 
was fit. Days that were not field-days were given up to 
battalion drill and musketry. This training seemed entirely 
unrelated to war as we had experienced it. We played a lot 
of games, including inter-battalion rugger; I played full-back 
for the battalion. Three other officers were in the team. 
Richardson as front-row scrum-man; Pritchard, another 
Sandhurst boy, who was fly-half; and David Thomas, a 
Third Battalion second-lieutenant, who was an inside three- 
quarter. David Thomas and Siegfried were the closest 
friends I made while in France. David was a simple, gentle 
fellow and fond of reading. Siegfried, he, and I were 
together a lot. 

One day David met me in the village street. He said; 
‘Did you hear the bugle? There’s a hell of a row on about 
something. All officers and warrant-officers are to meet in 
the village schoolroom at once. Scatter’s looking as black 
as thunder. No one knows yet what the axe is about.’ We 
went along together and squeezed into one of the school 
desk-benches. When the colonel entered and the room was 
called to attention by the senior major, David and I hurt 
ourselves standing up, bench and all. Scatter told us all to 
be seated. The officers were in one class, the warrant-officers 
and non-commissioned officers in another. The colonel 
glared at us from the teacher’s desk. He began his lecture 
with general accusations. He said that he had lately noticed 
many signs of slovenliness in the battalion — men with their 
pocket-flaps undone, and actually walking down the village 


street with their hands in their trousers-pockets - boots 
unpolished - sentries strolling about on their beats at com- 
pany billets instead of marching up and down in a soldier-like 
way - rowdiness in the estaminets — s\z.cka.css in saluting — 
with many other grave indications of lowered discipline. 
He threatened to stop all leave to the United Kingdom unless 
discipline improved. He promised us a saluting parade 
every morning before breakfast which he would attend in 
person. All this was general axe-ing and we knew that he 
had not yet reached the particular axe. It was this: ‘I have 
here principally to tell you of a very disagreeable occurrence. 
As I was going out of my orderly room early this morning I 
came upon a group of soldiers; I will not mention their 
company. One of these soldiers was in conversation with a 
lance-corporal. You may not believe it, but it was a fact that 
he addressed the corporal by his Christian name; he called him 
Jack. The corporal made no protest. To think that the 
First Battalion has sunk to a level where it is possible for 
such familiarity to exist between N.C.O.’s and the men 
tmder their command! Naturally, I put the corporal under 
arrest, and he appeared before me at once on the charge of 
‘conduct unbecoming to an N.C.O.’ He was reduced to the 
ranks, and the man was given field-punishment for using 
insubordinate language to an N.C.O. And, I warn you, if 
any further case of the sort comes to my notice — and I expect 
you officers to report the slightest instance to me at once 
instead of dealing with it as a company matter . . .’ I tried 
to catch Siegfried’s eye, but he was busy avoiding it, so I 
caught David’s instead. This is one of those caricature scenes 
that now seem to sum up the various stages of my life. 
There was a fresco around the walls of the class-room 
illustrating the evils of alcoholism. It started with the 


innocent boy being offered a drink by his mate, and then 
his downward path, culminating in wife-beating, murder, and 
delirium tremens. 

The battalion’s only complaint against Montagne was 
that women were not so easy to get hold of in that part of 
the country as around Bdthune; the officers had the unfair 
advantage of being able to borrow horses and ride into 
Amiens. I remained puritanical. There was a Blue Lamp at 
Amiens as there was at Abbeville, Havre, Rouen, and all 
the big towns behind the lines. The Blue Lamp was for 
officers, as the Red Lamp was for men. It was most im- 
portant for discipline to be maintained in this way. 

In January the Seventh Division sent two company officers 
from each brigade to instruct troops at the base. I and a 
captain in the Queen’s were the two who had been out 
longest, so we were chosen; it was a gift of two months 
longer life to us. 


I WAS one of about thirty instructors at the Havre ‘Bull 
Ring,’ where newly-arrived drafts were sent for technical 
instruction before going up the line. Most of my colleagues 
were specialists in musketry, machine-gun, gas, or bombs. 
I had no specialist training, only general experience. I was 
put on instructional work in trench relief and trench 
discipline in a model set of trenches. My principal other 
business was arms-drill. One day it rained, and the com- 
mandant of the Bull Ring suddenly ordered me to lecture 
in the big concert hall. ‘There are three thousand men there 
waiting for you, and you’re the only available officer with 
a loud enough voice to make himself heard.’ They were 
Canadians, so instead of giving my usual semi-facetious 
lecture on ‘How to be happy though in the trenches,’ I 
paid them the compliment of telling them the story of Loos, 
and what a balls-up it was, and why it was a balls-up. It was 
the only audience that I ever held for an hour with real 
attention. I expected the commandant to be furious with me 
because the principal object of the Bull Ring was to inculcate 
the offensive spirit, but he took it well and I had several 
more concert-hall lectures put on me after this. 

In the instructors’ mess the chief subjects of conversation 
besides local and technical talk were morale.^ the reliability 
of various divisions in battle, the value of different training 
methods, and war-morality, with particular reference to 
atrocities. We talked more freely there than would have 
been possible either in England or in the trenches. We 
decided that about a third of the troops in the British 
Expeditionary Force were dependable on all occasions; these 
were the divisions that were always called on for the most 



important tasks. About a third were variable, that is, where 
a division contained one or two bad battalions, but could be 
more or less trusted. The remainder were more or less un- 
trustworthy; being put in positions of comparative safety 
they had about a quarter of the casualties that the best 
divisions had. It was a matter of pride to belong to one of 
the recognized best divisions — the Seventh, the Twenty- 
ninth, Guards’, First Canadian, for instance. They were not 
pampered when in reserve as the German storm-troops were, 
but promotion, leave, and the chance of a wound came 
quicker in them. The mess agreed that the most dependable 
British troops were the Midland county regiments, industrial 
Yorkshire and Lancashire troops,' and the Londoners. The 
Ulsterman, Lowland Scots and Northern English were 
pretty good. The Catholic Irish and the Highland Scots 
were not considered so good — they took unnecessary risks 
in trenches and had unnecessary casualties, and in battle, 
though they usually made their objective, they too often lost 
it in the counter-attack; without officers they were no good. 
English southern county regiments varied from good to 
very bad. All overseas troops were good. The dependability 
of divisions also varied with their seniority in date of pro- 
motion. The latest formed regular divisions and the second- 
line territorial divisions, whatever their recruiting area, 
were usually inferior. Their senior officers and warrant- 
officers were not good enough. 

We once discussed which were the cleanest troops in 
trenches, taken in nationalities. We agreed on a 'list like 
this, in descending order: English and German Protestants; 
Northern Irish, Welsh and Canadians; Irish and German 
Catholics; Scottish; Mohammedan Indians; Algerians; Portu- 
guese; Belgians; French. The Belgians and French were 


put there for spite; they were not really dirtier than the 
Algerians or Portuguese. 

Atrocities. Propaganda reports of atrocities were, we 
agreed, ridiculous. Atrocities against civilians were surely 
few. We remembered that while the Germans were in a 
position to commit atrocities against enemy civilians, 
Germany itself, except for the early Russian cavalry raid, 
had never had the enemy on her soil. We no longer believed 
accounts of unjustified German atrocities in Belgium; know- 
the Belgians now at first-hand. By atrocities we meant, 
specifically, rape, mutilation and torture, not summary 
shootings of suspected spies, harbourers of spies, francs- 
tireurs^ or disobedient local officials. If the atrocity list was 
to include the accidental-on-purpose bombing or machine- 
gunning of civilians from the air, the Allies were now com- 
mitting as many atrocities as the Germans. French and 
Belgian civilians had often tried to win our sympathy and 
presents by exhibiting mutilations of children — stumps of 
hands and feet, for instance — representing them as deliberate, 
fiendish atrocities when they were merely the result of shell- 
fire, British or French shell-fire as likely as not. We did not 
believe that rape was any more common on the German side 
of the line than on the Allied side. It was unnecessary. 
Of course, a bully-beef diet, fear of death, and absence of 
wives made ample provision of women necessary in the 
occupied areas. No doubt the German army authorities 
provided brothels in the principal French towns behind the 
line, as did the French on the Allied side. But the voluntary 
system would suffice. We did not believe stories of forcible 
enlistment of women. 

As for atrocities against soldiers. The difficulty was to 
say where to draw the line. For instance, the British soldier 




at first regarded as atrocious the use of bowie-knives by 
German patrols. After a time he learned to use them him- 
self; they were cleaner killing weapons than revolvers or 
bombs. The Germans regarded as atrocious the British 
Mark VII rifle bullet, which was more apt to turn on striking 
than the German bullet. For true atrocities, that is, personal 
rather than military violations of the code of war, there 
were few opportunities. The most obvious opportunity was 
in the interval between surrender of prisoners and their 
arrival (or non-arrival) at headquarters. And it was an 
opportunity of which advantage was only too often taken. 
Nearly every instructor in the mess knew of specific cases 
when prisoners had been murdered on the way back. The 
commonest motives were, it seems, revenge for the death of 
friends or relations, jealousy of the prisoner’s pleasant trip 
to a comfortable prison camp in England, military enthusiasm, 
fear of being suddenly overpowered by the prisoners or, 
more simply, not wanting to be bothered with the escorting 
job. In any of these cases the conductors would report on 
arrival at headquarters that a German shell had killed the 
prisoners; no questions would be asked. We had every 
reason to believe that the same thing happened on the 
German side, where prisoners, as useless mouths to feed in 
a country already on short rations, were even less welcome. 
We had none of us heard of prisoners being more than 
threatened at headquarters to get military information from 
them; the sort of information that trench-prisoners could give 
was not of sufficient importance to make torture worth 
while; in any case it was found that when treated kindly 
prisoners were anxious, in gratitude, to tell as much as they 

The troops that had the worst reputation for acts of 


violence against prisoners were the Canadians (and later 
the Australians). With the Canadians the motive was said 
to be revenge for a Canadian found crucified with bayonets 
through his hands and feet in a German trench; this atrocity 
was never substantiated, nor did we believe the story freely 
circulated that the Canadians crucified a German officer in 
revenge shortly afterwards. (Of the Australians the only 
thing to be said was that they were only two generations 
removed from the days of Ralph Rashleigh and Marcus 
Clarke.) How far this reputation for atrocities was deserved, 
and how far it was due to the overseas habit of bragging 
and leg-pulling, we could not decide. We only knew that to 
have committed atrocities against prisoners was, among the 
overseas men, and even among some British troops, a boast, 
not a confession. 

I heard two first-hand accounts later in the war. 

A Canadian-Scot; ‘I was sent back with three bloody 
prisoners, you see, and one was limping and groaning, so I 
had to keep on kicking the sod down the trench. He was an 
officer. It was getting dark and I was getting fed up, so I 
thought: “I’ll have a bit of a game.” I had them covered 
with the officer’s revolver and I made ’em open their pockets. 
Then I dropped a Mills’ bomb in each, with the pin out, 
and ducked behind a traverse. Bang, bang, bang! No more 
bloody prisoners. No good Fritzes but dead ’uns.’ 

An Australian: ‘Well, the biggest lark I had was at 
Morlancourt when we took it the first time. There were a 
lot of Jerries in a cellar and I said to ’em: “Come out, you 
Camarades.” So out they came, a dozen of ’em, with their 
hands up. “Turn out your pockets,” I told ’em. They 
turned ’em out. Watches and gold and stuff, all dinkum. 
Then I said: “Now back into your cellar, you sons of 


bitches.” For I couldn’t be bothered with ’em. When they 
were all down I threw half a dozen Mills’ bombs in after ’em. 
I’d got the stuff all right, and we weren’t taking prisoners that 

The only first-hand account I heard of large-scale atroci- 
ties was from an old woman at Cardonette on the Somme, 
with whom I was billeted in July 1916. It was at Cardonette 
that a battalion of French Turcos overtook the rear guard of 
a German division retreating from the Marne in September 
1914. The Turcos surprised the dead-weary Germans while 
they were still marching in column. The old woman went, 
with gestures, through a pantomime of slaughter, ending: 
‘Et enfin, ces animaux leur ont arrache les oreilles et les ont 
mis k la poche.’ The presence of coloured troops in Europe 
was, from the German point of view, we knew, one of the 
chief Allied atrocities. We sympathized. Recently, at 
Flix^court, one of the instructors told us, the cook of a 
corps headquarter-mess used to be visited at the chdteau 
every morning by a Turco; he was orderly to a French 
liaison officer. The Turco used to say: ‘Tommy, give Johnny 
pozzy,’ and a tin of plum and apple jam used to be given 
him. One afternoon the corps was due to shift, so that 
morning the cook said to the Turco, giving him his farewell 
tin: ‘Oh, la, la, Johnny, napoo pozzy to-morrow.’ The 
Turco would not believe it. ‘Yes, Tommy, mate,’ he said, 
‘pozzy for Johnny to-morrow, to-morrow, to-morrow.’ To 
get rid of him the cook said: ‘Fetch me the head of a Fritz, 
Johnny, to-night. I’ll ask the general to give you pozzy to- 
morrow, to-morrow, to-morrow.’ ‘All right, mate,’ said the 
Turco, ‘me get Fritz head to-night, general give me pozzy 
to-morrow.’ That evening the mess cook of the new corps 
that had taken over the chateau was surprised to find a 



Turco asking for him and swinging a bloody head in a 
sandbag. ‘Here’s Fritz head, mate,’ said the Turco, 
‘general give me pozzy to-morrow, to-morrow, to-morrow.’ 
As Flix^court was twenty miles or more behind the line . . . 
He did not need to end the story, but swore it was true, 
because he had seen the head. 

We discussed the continuity of regimental morale. A 
captain in a line battalion of one of the Surrey regiments 
said: ‘It all depends on the reserve battalion at home.’ He 
had had a year’s service when the war broke out; the bat- 
talion, which had been good, had never recovered from the 
first battle of Ypres. He said: ‘What’s wrong with us is that 
we have a rotten depot. The drafts are bad and so we get a 
constant re-infection.’ He told me one night in our sleeping 
hut: ‘In both the last two attacks that we made I had to 
shoot a man of my company to get the rest out of the trench. 
It was so bloody awful that I couldn’t stand it. It’s the reason 
why I applied to be sent down here.’ This was not the usual 
loose talk that one heard at the base. He was a good fellow 
and he was speaking the truth. I was sorrier for Phillips — 
that was not his name - than for any other man I met in 
France. He deserved a better regiment. There was never 
any trouble with the Royal Welch like that. The boast of 
every good battalion in France was that it had never lost a 
trench; both our battalions made it. This boast had to be 
understood broadly; it meant never having been forced out 
of a trench by an enemy attack without recapturing it before 
the action ended. Capturing a German trench and being 
unable to hold it for lack of reinforcements did not count, 
nor did retirement from a trench by order or when the 
battalion of the left or right had broken and left a flank in the 
gir. And in the final stages of the war trenches could be 


honourably abandoned as being entirely obliterated by bom- 
bardment, or because not really trenches at all, but a line of 
selected shell-craters. 

We all agreed on the value of arms-drill as a factor in 
morale. ‘Arms-drill as it should be done,’ someone said, 
‘is beautiful, especially when the company feels itself as a 
single being and each movement is not a movement of every 
man together, but a single movement of one large creature.’ 
I used to have big bunches of Canadians to drill four or five 
hundred at a time. Spokesmen came forward once and asked 
what sense there was in sloping and ordering arms and fixing 
and unfixing bayonets. They said they had come to France 
to fight and not to guard Buckingham Palace. I told them 
that in every division of the four in which I had served there 
had been three different kinds of troops. Those that had 
guts but were no good at drill; those that were good at 
drill but had no guts; and those that had guts and were 
good at drill. These last fellows were, for some reason or 
other, much the best men in a show. I didn’t know why and 
I didn’t care. I told them that when they were better at 
fighting than the Guards’ Division they could perhaps 
afford to neglect their arms-drill. 

We often theorized in the mess about drill. We knew 
that the best drill never came from being bawled at by a 
sergeant-major, that there must be perfect respect between 
the man who gives the order and the men that carry it 
through. The test of drill came, I said, when the officer 
gave an incorrect word of command. If the company could 
carry through the order intended without hesitation, or, 
suppose the order happened to be impossible, could stand 
absolutely still or continue marching without any disorder 
in the ranks, that was good drill. The corporate spirit that 




came from drilling together was regarded by some instructors 
as leading to loss of initiative in the men drilled. Others 
denied this and said it acted just the other way round. 
‘Suppose there is a section of men with rifles, and they are 
isolated from the rest of the company and have no N.C.O. in 
charge and meet a machine-gun. Under the stress of danger 
that section will have that all-one-body feeling of drill and 
will obey an imaginary word of command. There will be 
no communication between its members, but there will be a 
drill movement. Two men will quite naturally open fire on 
the machine-gun while the remainder will work round, part 
on the left flank and part on the right, and the final rush will 
be simultaneous. Leadership is supposed to be the perfection 
for which drill has been instituted. That is wrong. Leader- 
ship is only the first stage. Perfection of drill is communal 
action. Drill may seem to be antiquated parade-ground 
stuff, but it is the foundation of tactics and musketry. It was 
‘parade-ground musketry that won all the battles in our 
regimental histories; this war will be won by parade-ground 
tactics. The simple drill tactics of small units fighting in 
limited spaces - fighting in noise and confusion so great that 
leadership is quite impossible.’ In spite of variance on this 
point we all agreed that regimental pride was the greatest 
moral force that kept a battalion going as an effective fighting 
unit, contrasting it particularly with patriotism and religion. 

Patriotism. There was no patriotism in the trenches. It 
was too remote a sentiment, and rejected as fit only for 
civilians. A new arrival who talked patriotism would soon 
be told to cut it out. As Blighty, Great Britain was a quiet, 
easy place to get back to out of the present foreign misery, but 
as a nation it was nothing. The nation included not only 
the trench-soldiers themselves and those who had gone home 


wounded, but the sta£F, Army Service Corps, lines of com- 
munication troops, base units, home-service units, and then 
civilians down to the detested grades of joixrnalists, profiteers, 
‘starred’ men exempted from enlistment, conscientious ob- 
jectors, members of the Government. The trench-soldier, 
with this carefully graded caste-system of honour, did not 
consider that the German trench-soldier might have exactly 
the same system himself. He thought of Germany as a nation 
in arms, a unified nation inspired with the sort of patriotism 
that he despised himself. He believed most newspaper 
reports of conditions and sentiments in Germany, though 
believing little or nothing of what he read about conditions 
and sentiments in England. His cynicism, in fact, was not 
confined to his own country. But he never underrated the 
German as a soldier. Newspaper libels on Fritz’s courage 
and efficiency were resented by all trench-soldiers of 

Religion. It was said that not one soldier in a hundred 
was inspired by religious feeling of even the crudest kind. 
It would have been difficult to remain religious in the 
trenches though one had survived the irreligion of the 
training battalion at home. A regular sergeant at Montagne, 
a Second Battalion man, had recently told me that he did 
not hold with religion in time of war. He said that the 
niggers (meaning the Indians) were right in officially relaxing 
their religious rules when they were fighting. ‘And all this 
damn nonsense, sir — excuse me, sir — ^that we read in the 
papers, sir, about how miraculous it is that the wayside 
crucifixes are always getting shot at but the figure of our 
Lord Jesus somehow don’t get hurt, it fairly makes me sick, 
sir.’ This was to explain why in gi'wng practice fire-orders 
from the hill-top he had shouted out: ‘Seven hundred, half 


left, bloke on cross, five rounds consecrate, fire!’ His 
platoon, even the two men whose letters home always had 
the same formal beginning: ‘Dear Sister in Christ,’ or ‘Dear 
Brother in Christ,’ blazed away. 

The troops, while ready to believe in the Kaiser as a comic 
personal devil, were aware that the German soldier was, 
on the whole, more devout than himself in the worship of 
God. In the instructors’ mess we spoke freely of God and 
Gott as opposed tribal deities. For the regimental chaplains 
as a body we had no respect. If the regimental chaplains 
had shown one tenth the courage, endurance, and other 
human qualities that the regimental doctors showed, we 
agreed, the British Expeditionary Force might well have 
started a religious revival. But they had not. The fact is 
that they were under orders not to get mixed up with the 
fighting, to stay behind with the transport and not to risk 
their lives. No soldier could have any respect for a chaplain 
who obeyed these orders, and yet there was not in our 
experience one chaplain in fifty who was not glad to obey 
them. Occasionally on a quiet day in a quiet sector the 
chaplain would make a daring afternoon visit to the support 
line and distribute a few cigarettes, and that was all. But he 
was always in evidence back in rest-billets. Sometimes the 
colonel would summon him to come up with the rations and 
bury the day’s dead, and he would arrive, speak his lines, 
and hastily retire. The position was made difficult by the 
respect that most of the commanding officers had for the 
cloth, but it was a respect that they soon outwore. The 
colonel in one battalion I served with got rid of four new 
chaplains in as many months. Finally he applied for a 
Roman Catholic chaplain, alleging a change of faith in the 
men under his command. For, as I should have said before, 

CLith an autobiography 243 

the Roman Catholics ■were not only permitted in posts of 
danger, but definitely enjoined to be wherever fighting was 
so that they could give extreme imction to the dying. And we 
had never heard of an R.C. chaplain who was unwilling to do 
all that was expected of him and more. It was recalled that 
Father Gleeson of the Munsters, when all the officers were 
put out of action at the first battle of Ypres, stripped off his 
black badges and, taking command of the survivors, held the 

Anglican chaplains were remarkably out of touch with 
their troops. I told how the Second Battalion chaplain just 
before the Loos fighting had preached a violent sermon on 
the battle against sin, and how one old soldier behind me 
had grumbled: ‘Christ, as if one bloody push wasn’t enough 
to worry about at a time.’ The Catholic padre, on the 
other hand, had given his men his blessing and told them 
that if they died fighting for the good cause they would go 
straight to Heaven, or at any rate would be excused a great 
many years in Purgatory. Someone told us of the chaplain 
of his battalion when he was in Mesopotamia, how on the 
eve of a big battle he had preached a sermon on the com- 
mutation of tithes. This was much more sensible than the 
battle against sin, he said; it was quite up in the air, and 
took the men’s minds off the fighting. 

I was feeling a bit better after a few weeks at the base, 
though the knowledge that this was only temporary relief 
was with me all the time. One day I walked out of the mess 
to begin the afternoon’s work on the drill ground. I had to 
pass by the place where bombing instruction was given. 
A group of men was standing around the table where the 
various types of bombs were set out for demonstration. 
There was a sudden crash. An instructor of the Royal Irish 


Rifles had been giving a little unofficial instruction before 
the proper instructor arrived. He had picked up a No. i 
percussion grenade and said: ‘Now, lads, you’ve got to be 
careful with this chap. Remember that if you touch anything 
while you’re swinging it, it will go off.’ To illustrate the point 
he rapped it against the edge of the table. It killed him and 
another man and wounded twelve others more or less 


I REJOINED the First Battalion in March, finding it in the 
line again, on the Somme. It was the primrose season. We 
went in and out of the Fricourt trenches, with billets at 
Morlancourt, a country village at that time untouched by 
shell-fire. (Later it was knocked to pieces; the Australians 
and the Germans captured and recaptured it from each other 
several times, until there was nothing left except the site.) 
‘A’ Company headquarters were in a farmhouse kitchen. We 
slept in our valises on the red-brick floor. The residents 
were an old lady and her daughter. The old lady was senile 
and paralysed; about all she could do was to shake her head 
and say: ‘Triste, la guerre.’ We called her ‘Triste la Guerre.’ 
Her daughter used to carry her about in her arms. 

The Fricourt trenches were cut in chalk, which was better 
in wet weather than the La Bass^e clay. We were unlucky 
in having a battalion-frontage where the lines came closer 
to each other than at any other point for miles. It was only 
recently that the British line had been extended down to the 
Somme. The French had been content, as they usually were, 
unless they definitely intended a battle, to be at peace with 
the Germans and not dig in too near. But here there was a 
slight ridge and neither side could afford to let the other hold 
the crest, so they shared it, after a prolonged dispute. It was 
used by both the Germans and ourselves as an experimental 
station for new types of bombs and grenades. The trenches 
were wide and tumbledown, too shallow in many places, 
and without sufficient traverses. The French had left relics 
of their nonchalance — corpses buried too near the surface; 
and of their love of security - a number of lousy but deep 
dug-outs. We busied ourselves raising the front-line parapet 


2+6 GOOD-BYE TO ALL THAT Ch. xviii 

and building traverses to limit the damage of the trench- 
mortar shells that were continually falling. Every night not 
only the companies in the front line but both support 
companies were hard at work all the time. It was even worse 
t han Cuinchy for rats; they used to run about A Company 
mess while we were at meals. We used to eat with revolvers 
beside our plates and punctuate our conversation with 
sudden volleys at a rat rummaging at somebody’s valise or 
crawling along the timber support of the roof above our 
heads. A Company officers were gay. We had all been in 
our school choirs except Edmund Dadd, who sang like a 
crow, and we used to chant church anthems and bits of 
cantatas whenever things were going well. Edmund insisted 
on joining in. 

We were at dinner one day when a Welsh boy came 
rushing in, hysterical with terror. He shouted out to 
Richardson; ‘Sirr, sirr, there is a trenss-mortar in my dug- 
out.’ This in sing-song Welsh made us all shout with 
laughter. Richardson said: ‘Cheer up, 33 Williams, how did 
a big thing like a trench-mortar happen to be in your dug-out.'” 
But 33 Williams could not explain. He went on again and 
again; ‘Sirr, sirr, there is a trenss-mortar in my dug-out!’ 
Edmund Dadd went out to investigate. He found that a 
trench-mortar shell had fallen into the trench, bounced down 
the dug-out steps, exploded and killed five men. 33 Williams 
had been lying asleep and had been protected by the body of 
another man; he was the only one unhit. 

Our greatest trial was the canister. It was a two-gallon 
drum with a cylinder inside containing about two pounds of 
an explosive called anunonal that looked like salmon paste, 
smelt like marzipan, and when it went off sounded like the 
day of judgment. The hollow around the cylinder was 


filled with scrap metal apparently collected by the French 
villagers behind the German line — rusty nails, fragments of 
British and French shells, spent bullets, and the screws, nuts, 
and bolts that heavy lorries leave behind on the road. We 
dissected one canister that had not exploded and found in it, 
among other things, the cog-wheels of a clock and half a 
set of false teeth. The canister was easy to hear coming and 
looked harmless in the air, but its shock was as shattering 
as the very heaviest shell. It would blow in any but the 
deepest dug-outs; and the false teeth and cog-wheels and 
so on would go flying all over the place. We could not agree 
how a thing of that size was fired. The problem was not 
solved until ist July, when the battalion attacked from these 
same trenches and found one of the canister-guns with its 
crew. It was a wooden cannon buried in the earth and fired 
with a time-fuse. The crew offered to surrender, but our 
men refused; they had sworn for months to get the crew of 
that gun. 

One evening I was in the trench with Richardson and 
David Thomas (near ‘Trafalgar Square,’ should anyone 
remember that trench-junction) when we met Pritchard and 
the adjutant. We stopped to talk. Richardson complained 
what a devil of a place it was for trench-mortars. Pritchard 
said: ‘That is where I come in.’ He was the battalion trench- 
mortar officer and had just been given the first two Stokes 
mortar-guns that we had seen in France. Pritchard said: 
‘They’re beauties. I’ve been trying them out and to-morrow 
I’m going to get some of my own back. I can put four or 
five shells in the air at the same time.’ The adjutant said: 
‘About time, too. We’ve had three hundred casualties in 
the last month here. It doesn’t seem so many as that because 
we’ve had no officer casualties. In fact we’ve had about five 

44-8 GOOD-BYE TO ALL THAT Cli.xviii 

hundred casualties in the ranks since Loos, and not a single 
officer.’ Then he suddenly realized that he had said some- 
thing unlucky. David said: ‘Touch wood.’ Everybody 
sprang to touch wood, but it was a French trench and un- 
riveted. I pulled a pencil out of my pocket; that was wood 
enough for me. Richardson said: ‘I’m not superstitious, 

The next evening I was leading up A Company for a 
working-party. B and D Companies were in the line and we 
overtook C, which was also going up to work. David was 
bringing up the rear of C. He was looking strange, worried 
about something. I had never seen him anything but cheerful 
all the time I had known him. I asked what was the matter. 
He said: ‘Oh, I’m fed up and I’ve got a cold.’ C Company 
went along to the right of the battalion frontage and we 
went along to the left. It was a weird kind of night, with a 
bright moon. A German occupied sap was only forty or 
fifty yards away. We were left standing on the parapet piling 
up the sandbags, with the moon behind us, but the German 
sentries ignored us — probably because they had work on 
hand themselves. It often happened when both sides were 
busy putting up proper defences that they turned a blind eye 
to each other’s work. Sometimes, it was said, the rival 
wiring-parties ‘as good as borrowed each other’s mallets’ 
for hammering in the pickets. The Germans were much 
more ready to live and let live than we were. (The only 
time, so far as I know, besides Christmas 1914, that both 
sides showed themselves in daylight without firing at each 
other was once at Ypres when the trenches got so flooded 
that there was nothing for it but for both sides to crawl out 
on top to avoid drowning.) There was a continual exchange 
of grenades and trench-mortars on oxxr side; the canister was 

Ch. xvin 



going over and the men found it difficult to get out of its 
way in the dark. But for the first time we were giving the 
enemy as good as they gave us. Pritchard had been using 
his Stokes’ mortar all day and had sent over two or three 
hundred rounds; twice they had located his emplacement and 
he had had to shift hurriedly. 

‘A’ Company worked from seven in the evening until 
midnight. We must have put thousands of sandbags into 
position, and fifty yards of front trench were beginning to 
look presentable. About half-past ten there was rifle-fire 
on the right and the sentries passed down the news ‘officer 
hit.’ Richardson at once went along to see who it was. He 
came back to say: ‘It’s young Thomas. He got a bullet 
through the neck, but I think he’s all right; it can’t have hit 
his spine or an artery because he’s walking down to the dress- 
ing-station.’ I was pleased at this news. I thought that 
David would be out of it long enough perhaps to escape the 
coming offensive and perhaps even the rest of the war. At 
twelve o’clock we had finished for the night. Richardson 
said to me: ‘Von Ranke’ (only he pronounced it Von Runicke 
— it was my regimental nickname), ‘take the company down 
for their rum and tea, will you? They’ve certainly deserved 
it to-night. I’ll be along in a few minutes. I’m going out 
with Corporal Chamberlen to see what work the wiring- 
party’s been doing all this time.’ So I took the men back. 
When we were well started I heard a couple of shells come 
over somewhere behind us. I noticed them because they were 
the only shells fired that night; five-nines they seemed by the 
noise. We were nearly back at Maple Redoubt, which was 
the name of the support line on the reverse side of the hill, 
when we heard the cry ‘Stretcher-bearers!’ and after a while 
a man came running to say: ‘Captain Graves is hit.’ There 



was a general laugh and we went on; but a stretcher-party 
went up anyhow to see what was wrong. It was Richardson; 
the shells had caught him and the corporal among the wire. 
The corporal had his leg blown off, and died of wounds a 
day or two later. Richardson had been blown into a shell- 
hole full of water and had lain there stunned for some minutes 
before the sentries heard the corporal’s cries and realized 
what had happened. He was brought down semi-conscious; 
he recognized us, told us he wouldn’t be long away from 
the company, and gave us instructions about it. The doctor 
said that he had no wound in any vital spot, though the skin 
of his left side was riddled, as we had seen, with the chalky 
soil blown up against him. We felt a relief in his case, as in 
David’s, that he would be out of it for a while. 

Then news came that David had died. The regimental 
doctor, a throat specialist in cml life, had told him at the 
dressing-station: ‘You’ll be all right, only don’t raise your 
head for a bit.’ David had then, it was said, taken a letter 
from his pocket, given it to an orderly, and said: ‘Post that.’ 
It was a letter written to a girl in Glamorgan, to be posted 
in case he got killed. Then the doctor saw that he was 
choking; he tried trachotomy, but it was too late. Edmund 
and I were talking together in the company headquarters at 
about one o’clock when the adjutant came in. He looked 
ghastly. He told us that Richardson had died at the 
dressing-station. His heart had been weakened by rowing 
(he had been in the Eight at Radley) and the explosion and 
the cold water had been too much for it. The adjutant said 
to me nervously: ‘You know, somehow I feel, I -I feel 
responsible in a way for this; what I said yesterday at 
‘Trafalgar Square.’ Of course, really, I don’t believe in 
superstition, but . . .’ Just at that moment there was a 


noise of whizz-bang shells about twenty yards off; a cry of 
alarm, followed by: ‘Stretcher-bearers!’ The adjutant turned 
quite white and we knew without being told what it meant. 
We hurried out. Pritchard, having fought his duel all night, 
and finally silenced the enemy, was coming off duty. A 
whizz-bang had caught him at the point where the com- 
munication trench reached Maple Redoubt; it was a direct 
hit. The casualties of that night were three officers and one 

It seemed ridiculous when we returned without Richardson 
to A Company billets to find ‘Triste La Guerre’ still alive 
and to hear her once more quaver out ‘Triste, la guerre’ 
when her daughter explained that the jeune capitaine had 
been killed. The old woman had taken a fancy to Xh.t jeune 
capitaine\ we used to chaff him about it. I felt David’s death 
worse than any other death since I had been in France. It 
did not anger me as it did Siegfried. He was acting transport- 
officer and every night now, when he came up with the 
rations, he went out on patrol looking for Germans. It just 
made me feel empty and lost. 

One of the anthems that we used to sing was: ‘He that 
shall endure to the end, shall be saved.’ The words repeated 
themselves in my head like a charm whenever things were 
bad. ‘Though thousands languish and fall beside thee. 
And tens of thousands around thee perish, Yet still it shall 
not come nigh thee.’ And there was another bit: ‘To an 
inheritance incorruptible. . , . Through faith unto salva- 
tion, Ready to be revealM at the last trump.’ For ‘trump’ 
we always used to sing ‘crump.’ ‘The last crump’ was the 
end of the war and would we ever hear it burst safely behind 
us? I wondered whether I could endure to the end with 
faith unto salvation. I knew that my breaking point was 


near now, unless something happened to stave it ofF. . . . 
It was not that I was frightened. Certainly I feared death; 
but I had never yet lost my head through fright, and I knew 
that I never would. Nor would the breakdown come as 
insanity; I did not have it in me. It would be a general 
nervous collapse, with tears and twitchings and dirtied 
trousers. I had seen cases like that. 

The battalion was issued with a new gas-helmet, popularly 
known as ‘the goggle-eyed b — r with the tit.’ It differed 
from the previous models. One breathed in through the 
nose from inside the helmet and breathed out through a 
special valve held in the mouth. I found that I could not 
manage this. Boxing with an already broken nose had 
recently displaced the septum, so that I was forced to breathe 
through my mouth. In a gas-attack I would be unable to 
use the helmet and it was the only type claimed to be proof 
against the new German gas. The battalion doctor advised 
me to have an operation done as soon as I could. 

These months with the First Battalion have already been 
twice recorded in literary history; though in both cases in a 
disguise of names and characters. The two books are 
Siegfried Sassoon’s Memoirs of a Fox-hunting Man, and 
Nothing of Importance, by Bill Adams, the battalion sniping 
and intelligence officer. Adam’s book did not sell, but was 
as good a book as 1917 censorship allowed; it should be 
re-printed. Adams was killed; in fact, three out of five of the 
officers of the First Battalion at that time were killed in the 
Somme fighting. Scatter’s dream of open warfare was not 
realized. He himself was very seriously wounded. Of A 
Company choir there is one survivor besides myself — C. D. 
Morgan, who had his thigh smashed, and was still in hospital 
sometime after the war ended. 


When I was given leave in April 1916 I went to a military 
hospital in London and had my nose operated on. It was a 
painful operation, but performed by a first-class surgeon and 
cost me nothing. In peace-time it would have cost me sixty 
guineas, and another twenty guineas in nursing-home fees. 
After hospital I went up to Harlech to walk on the hills. 
I had in mind the verse of the psalm: ‘I will lift up mine eyes 
unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.’ That was 
another charm against trouble. I bought a small two-roomed 
cottage from my mother, who owned considerable cottage 
property in the neighbourhood. I bought it in defiance of 
the war, as something to look forward to when the guns 
stopped (‘when the guns stop’ was how we always thought of 
the end of the war). I whitewashed the cottage and put in a 
table, a chair, a bed and a few dishes and cooking utensils. 
I had decided to live there by myself on bread and butter, 
bacon and eggs, lettuce in season, cabbage and coiFee; and 
to write poetry. My war-bonus would keep me for a year 
or two at least. The cottage was on the hillside away from 
the village. I put in a big window to look out over the 
wood below and across the Morfa to the sea. I wrote two or 
three poems here as a foretaste of the good life coming after 
the war. 

It was about 'his time, but whether before or after my 
operation I cannot remember, that I was taken by my father 
to a dinner of the Honourable Cymmrodorion Society - 
a Welsh literary club — where Lloyd George, then Prime 
Minister, and W. M. Hughes, the Australian Prime 
Minister, were to speak. Hughes was perky, dry and to the 
point; Lloyd George was up in the air on one of his ‘glory 



of the Welsh hills’ speeches. The power of his rhetoric 
was uncanny. I knew that the substance of what he was 
saying was commonplacej idle and false, but I had to fight 
hard against abandoning myself with the rest of the audience. 
The power I knew was not his; he sucked it from his hearers 
and threw it back at them. Afterwards I was introduced to 
hinij and when I looked closely at his eyes they were like 
those of a sleep-walker. 

I rejoined the Third Battalion at Litherland, near Liverpool, 
where it had been shifted from Wrexham as part of the 
Mersey defence force; I liked the Third Battalion. The 
senior officers were generous in not putting more work on 
me than i wished to undertake, and it was good to meet 
again three of my Wrexham contemporaries who had been 
severely wounded (all of them, by a coincidence, in the left 
thigh) and seemed to be out of it for the rest of the war - 
Frank Jones-Bateman and ‘Father’ Watkin, who had been 
in the Welsh Regiment with me, and Aubrey Attwater, 
the assistant adjutant, who had gone to the Second Battalion 
early in 1 9 1 5 and had been hit when out on patrol. Attwater 
had come from Cambridge at the outbreak of war and was 
known as ‘Brains’ in the battalion. The militia majors, who 
were for the most part country gentlemen with estates in 
Wales, and had no thoughts in peace-time beyond hunting, 
shooting, fishing, and the control of their tenantry, were 
delighted with Attwater’s informative talk over the port at 
mess. Sergeant Malley, the mess-sergeant, would go round 
with his ‘Light or vintage, sir?’ and the old majors wotdd 
say to Attwater: ‘Now, Brains! Tell us about Shakespeare. 
Is it true that Bacon wrote him?’ Or, ‘Well, Brains! What 
do you think about this chap Hilaire Belloc? Does he really 
know when the war’s going to end?’ And Attwater would 


humorously accept his position as combined encyclopaedia 
and almanac. Sergeant Malley was another friend whom 
I was always pleased to meet again. He could pour more 
wine into a glass than any other man in the world; it bulged 
up over the top of a glass like a cap and he was never known 
to spill a drop. 

Wednesdays were guest-nights in the mess, when the 
married officers who usually dined at home were expected 
to attend. The band played Gilbert and Sullivan music 
behind a curtain. In the intervals the regimental harper 
gave solos — Welsh melodies picked out rather uncertainly 
on a hand-harp. When the programme was over the band- 
master was invited to the senior officers’ table for his com- 
plimentary glass of light or vintage. When he was gone, 
and the junior officers had retired, the port went round and 
round, and the conversation, at first very formal, became 
rambling and intimate. Once, I remember, a senior major 
laid it down axiomatically that every so-called sportsman 
had at one time or another committed a sin against sportsman- 
ship. When challenged, he cross-examined each of his 
neighbours in turn, putting them on their honour to tell 
the truth. One of them, blushing, admitted that he had once 
shot grouse two days before the Twelfth: Tt was my last 
chance before I rejoined the battalion in India.’ Another 
said that when a public-school boy, and old enough to know 
better, he had killed a sitting pheasant with a stone. The 
next one had gone out with a poacher — in his Sandhurst 
days — and crumbled poison-berry into a trout-stream. An 
even more scandalous admission came from a new-army 
major, a gentleman-farmer, that his estate had been overrun 
with foxes one year and, the headquarters of the nearest 
hunt being thirty miles away, he had given his bailiff 


permission to protect the hen-roosts with a gun. Finally it 
was the turn of the medical officer to be cross-examined. He 
said: ‘Well, once when I was a student at St. Andrews a 
friend asked me to put ten bob for him on a horse in the 
Lincolnshire. I couldn’t find my bookmaker in time. The 
horse lost and I never returned the ten bob.’ At this one 
of the guests, an officer in the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, 
became suddenly excited, jumped up and leant over the 
table, doubling his fists. ‘And was not the name of the 
horse Strathspey.? And will you not pay me my ten shillings 
now immediately?’ 

The camp was only separated by the bombing-field from 
Brotherton’s, where a specially sensitive explosive for de- 
tonators was made. The munition makers had permanently 
yellow faces and hands and drew appropriately high wages. 
Attwater used to argue at mess sometimes what would 
happen if Brotherton’s blew up. Most of us held that the 
shock would immediately kill all the three thousand men 
of the camp besides destroying Litherland and a large part 
of Bootle, He maintained that the very closeness of the 
camp would save it; that the vibrations would go over and 
strike a big munition camp about a mile away and set that 
off. One Sunday afternoon Attwater limped out of the mess 
and suddenly saw smoke rising from Brotherton’s. Part of 
the factory was on fire. The camp fire-brigade was im- 
mediately bugled for and managed to put the fire out before 
it reached a vital spot. So the argument was never decided. 
I was at Litherland only a few weeks. On ist July 1916 the 
Somme offensive started, and all available trained men and 
officers were sent out to replace casualties. I was disappointed 
to be sent back to the Second Battalion, not the First. 

It was in trenches at Givenchy, just the other side of the 


canal from the Cuinchy brick-stacks. I arrived at the 
battalion on July 5th to find it in the middle of a raid. 
Prisoners were coming down the trench, scared and chatter- 
ing to each other. They were Saxons just returned from a 
divisional rest and a week’s leave to Germany. Their 
uniforms were new and their packs full of good stuff to loot. 
One prisoner got a good talking-to from C Company 
sergeant-major, a Birmingham man, who was shocked at a 
packet of indecent photographs found in the man’s haversack. 
It had been a retaliatory raid. Only a few days before, the 
Germans had sent up the biggest mine blown on the Western 
front so far. It caught our B Company — the B’s were 
proverbially unlucky. The crater, which was afterwards 
named Red Dragon Crater after the Royal Welch regimental 
badge, must have been about thirty yards across. There were 
few survivors of B Company. The Germans immediately 
came over in force to catch the other companies in confusion. 
Stanway, who had been a company sergeant-major on the 
retreat and was now an acting-major, rallied some men on 
the flank and drove them back. Blair, B Company com- 
mander, was buried by the mine up to his neck and for the 
rest of the day was constantly under fire. Though an oldish 
man (he had the South African ribbon), he survived this 
experience, recovered from his wounds, and was back in 
the battalion a few months later. 

This raid was Stanway’s revenge. He organized it with 
the colonel; the colonel was the Third Battalion adjutant 
who had originally sent me out to France. The raid was 
elaborately planned, with bombardments and smoke-screen 
diversions on the flanks. A barrage of shrapnel shifted 
forward and back from the German front line to the supports. 
The intention was that the Germans at the first bombardment 


should go down into the shell-proof dug-outs, leaving only 
their sentries in the trench, and reappear as soon as the barrage 
lifted. When it came down again they would make another 
for the dug-outs. After this had happened two or three 
times they would be slow in coming out at all. Then, under 
cover of a smoke-screen, the raid would be made and the 
barrage put down uninterruptedly on the support and reserve 
lines to prevent reinforcements. My only part in the raid, 
which was successful, was to write out a detailed record of it 
at the colonel’s request. It was not the report for divisional 
headquarters but a page of regimental history to be sent to 
the depot to be filed in regimental records. In my account 
I noted that for the first time for two hundred years the 
regiment had reverted to the pike. Instead of rifle and 
bayonet some of the raiders had used butchers’ knives secured 
with medical plaster to the end of broomsticks. This pike 
was a lighter weapon than rifle and bayonet and was useful 
in conjunction with bombs and revolvers. 

An oflicial journalist at headquarters also wrote an account 
of the raid. The battalion enjoyed the bit about how they 
had gone over shouting ‘Remember Kitchener!’ and ‘Avenge 
the LusitaniaV ‘What a damn silly thing to shout,’ said 
someone. ‘Old Kitchener was all right, but nobody wants 
him back at the War Office, that I’ve heard. And as for the 
Lusitania, the Germans gave her full warning, and if it brings 
the States into the war, it’s all to the good.’ 

There were not many officers in the Second who had been 
with it when I left it a month after Loos, but at any rate I 
expected to have a friendlier welcome than the first time I had 
come to the battalion at Laventie. But, as one of them recorded 
in his diary: ‘Graves had a chilly reception, which surprised 
me.* The reason was simple. One of the officers who had 


joined the Third Battalion in August 1914, and had been on* 
the Square with me, had achieved his ambition of a regular 
commission in the Second Battalion. He was one of those 
who had been sent out to France before me as being more 
efficient and had been wounded before I came out. But now 
he was only a second-lieutenant in the Second Battalion, where 
promotion was slow, and I was a captain in the Third Battalion. 
Line-battalion feeling against the Special Reserve was always 
strong, and jealousy of my extra stars made him bitter. It 
amused him to revive the suspicion raised at Wrexham by 
my German name that I was a German spy. Whether he was 
serious or not I cannot say, probably he could not have said 
either; but the result was that I found myself treated with 
great reserve by all the officers who had not been with me 
in trenches before. It was unlucky that the most notorious 
German spy caught in England had assumed the name of 
Karl Graves. It was put about that he was a brother of mine. 
My consolation was that there was obviously a battle due 
and that would be the end either of me or of the suspicion. 

I thought to myself: ‘So long as there isn’t an N.C.O. told 
off to watch me and shoot me on the slightest appearance 
of treachery.’ Such things had been known. As a matter 
of fact, though I had myself had no traffic with the enemy, 
there was a desultory correspondence kept up between my 
mother and her sisters in Germany; it came through her 
sister, Clara von Faber du Faur, mother of my cousin 
Conrad, whose husband was German consul at Zurich. It 
was not treasonable on either side, merely a register of the 
deaths of relations and discreet references to the war service of 
the survivors. The German aunts wrote, as the Government 
had ordered every German with relations or friends in enemy 
or neutral countries to do, pointing out the r^hteousness 

36 o good-bye to all THAT Ch. xix 

of the German cause and presenting Germany as the 
innocent party in a war engineered by France and Russia. 
My mother, equally strong for the Allied cause, wrote back 
that they were deluded. The officers I liked in the battalion 
were the colonel and Captain Dunn, the battalion doctor. 
Doctor Dunn was what they call a hard-bitten man; he had 
served as a trooper in the South African War and won the 
D.c.M. He was far more than a doctor; living at battalion 
headquarters he became the right-hand man of three or four 
colonels in succession. When his advice was not taken this 
was usually afterwards regretted. On one occasion, in the 
autumn fighting of 1917, a shell burst among the head- 
quarters staff, knocking out adjutant, colonel, and signals 
officer. Dunn had no hesitation in pulling off the red-cross 
armlets that he wore in a battle and becoming a temporary 
combatant officer of the Royal Welch, resigning his duties 
to the stretcher-bearer sergeant. He took command and 
kept things going. The men were rather afraid of him, but 
had more respect for him than for anyone else in the 


Four days after the raid we heard that we were due for 
the Somme. We marched through B^thune, which had been 
much knocked about and was nearly deserted, to Fouquieres, 
and there entrained for the Somme. The Somme railhead 
was near Amiens and we marched by easy stages through 
Cardonette, Daours, and Buire, until we came to the original 
front line, close to the place where David Thomas had been 
killed. The fighting had moved two miles on. This was on 
the afternoon of 14th July. At 4 a.m. on the 15th July we 
moved up the Meaulte-Fricourt-Bazentin road which wound 
through ‘Happy Valley’ and found ourselves in the more 
recent battle area. Wounded men and prisoners came stream- 
ing past us. What struck me most was the number of dead 
horses and mules lying about; human corpses I was accus- 
tomed to, but it seemed wrong for animals to be dragged into 
the war like this. We marched by platoons, at fifty yards 
distance. Just beyond Fricourt we found a German shell- 
barrage across the road. So we left it and moved over 
thickly shell-pitted ground until 8 a.m., when we found our- 
selves on the fringe of Mametz Wood, among the dead of our 
new-army battalions that had been attacking Mametz Wood. 
We halted in thick mist. The Germans had been using 
lachrymatory shell and the mist held the fumes; we coughed 
and swore. We tried to smoke, but the gas had got into the 
cigarettes, so we threw them away. Later we wished we had 
not, because it was not the cigarettes that had been affected 
so much as our own throats. The colonel called up the 
officers and we pulled out our maps. We were expecting 
orders for an attack. When the mist cleared we saw a 
Grerman gun with ‘First Battalion Royal Welch Fusiliers’ 



chalked on it. It was evidently a trophy. I wondered what 
had happened to Siegfried and my friends of A Company. 
We found the battalion quite close in bivouacs; Siegfried was 
still alive, as were Edmund Dadd and two other A Company 
officers. The battalion had been in heavy fighting. In their 
first attack at Fricourt they had overrun our opposite number 
in the German army, the Twenty-third Infantry Regiment, 
who were undergoing a special disciplinary spell in the 
trenches because an inspecting staff-officer, coming round, 
had found that all the officers were back in Mametz village 
in a deep dug-out instead of up in the trenches with their 
men. (It was said that throughout that bad time in March in 
the German trenches opposite to us there had been no 
officer of higher rank than corporal.) Their next objective 
had been The Quadrangle, a small copse this side of Mametz 
Wood. I was told that Siegfried had then distinguished 
himself by taking single-handed a battalion frontage that 
the Royal Irish Regiment had failed to take the day before. 
He had gone over with bombs in daylight, under covering 
fire from a couple of rifles, and scared the occupants out. 
It was a pointless feat; instead of reporting or signalling for 
reinforcements he sat down in the German trench and began 
dozing over a book of poems which he had brought with 
him. When he finally went back he did not report. The 
colonel was furious. The attack on Mametz Wood had been 
delayed for two hours because it was reported that British 
patrols were still out. ‘British patrols’ were Siegfried and 
his book of poems. ‘It would have got you a d.s.o. if you’d 
only had more sense,’ stormed the colonel. Siegfried had been 
doing heroic things ever since I had left the battalion. 
His nickname in the Seventh Division was ‘Mad Jack.’ 
He was given a Military Cross for bringing in a wounded 


lance-corporal from a mine-crater close to the German lines, 
under heavy fire. He was one of the rare exceptions to the 
rule against the decoration of Third Battalion officers. I did 
not see Siegfried this time; he was down with the transport 
having a rest. So I sent him a rhymed letter, by one of our 
own transport men, about the times that we were going to 
have together when the war ended; how, after a rest at Har- 
lech, we were going for a visit to the Caucasus and Persia 
and China; and what good poetry we would write. It was in 
answer to one he had written to me from the army school at 
Flix^court a few weeks previously (which appears in The 
Old Huntsman). 

I went for a stroll with Edmund Dadd, who was now 
commanding A Company. Edmund was cursing: ‘It’s not 
fair, Robert. You remember A Company under Richardson 
was always the best company. Well, it’s kept up its reputa- 
tion, and the C.O. shoves us in as the leading company of 
every show, and we get our objectives and hold them, and 
so we’ve got to do the same again the next time. And he says 
that I’m indispensable in the company, so he makes me go 
over every time instead of giving me a rest and letting my 
second-in-command take his turn. I’ve had five shows in 
just over a fortnight and I can’t go on being lucky every 
time. The colonel’s about due for his c.b. Apparently 
A Company is making sure of it for him.’ 

For the next two days we were in bivouacs outside the 
wood. We were in fighting kit and the nights were wet and 
cold. I went into the wood to find German overcoats to 
use as blankets. Mametz Wood was full of dead of the 
Prussian Guards Reserve, big men, and of Royal Welch 
and South Wales Borderers of the new-army battalions, little 
men. There was not a single tree in the wood unbroken. 


I got my greatcoats and came away as quickly as I could, 
climbing over the wreckage of green branches. Going and 
coming, by the only possible route, I had to pass by the 
corpse of a German with his back propped against a tree. 
He had a green face, spectacles, close shaven hair; black 
blood was dripping from the nose and beard. He had been 
there for some days and was bloated and stinking. There 
had been bayonet fighting in the wood. There was a man of 
the South Wales Borderers and one of the Lehr regiment 
who had succeeded in bayoneting each other simultaneously. 
A stirvivor of the fighting told me later that he had seen a 
young soldier of the Fourteenth Royal Welch bayoneting a 
German in parade-ground style, automatically exclaiming 
as he had been taught: Tn, out, on guard.’ He said that it was 
the oddest thing he had heard in France. 

I found myself still superstitious about looting or collecting 
souvenirs. The greatcoats were only a loan, I told myself. 
Almost the only souvenir I had allowed myself to keep was a 
trench periscope, a little rod-shaped metal one sent me from 
home; when I poked it up above the parapet it offered only 
an inch-square target to the German snipers. Yet a sniper at 
Cuinchy, in May, drilled it through, exactly central, at 
four hundred yards range. I sent it home, but had no time 
to write a note of explanation. My mother, misunderstand- 
ing, and practical as usual, took it back to the makers and 
made them change it for a new one. 

Our brigade, the Nineteenth, was the reserve brigade of 
the Thirty-third Division; the other brigades, the Ninety- 
ninth and Hundredth, had attacked Martinpuich two days 
previously and had been stopped with heavy losses as soon 
as they started. Since then we had had nothing to do but 
sit about in shell-holes and watch the artillery duel going on. 


We had never seen artillery so thick. On the 1 8 th we moved 
up to a position just to the north of Bazentin le Petit to 
relieve the Tyneside Irish. I was with D Company. The 
guide who was taking us up was hysterical and had forgotten 
the way; we put him under arrest and found it ourselves. 
As we went up through the ruins of the village we were 
shelled. We were accustomed to that, but they were gas 
shells. The standing order with regard to gas shells was not 
to put on one’s respirator but hurry on. Up to that week 
there had been no gas shells except lachrymatory ones; these 
were the first of the real kind, so we lost about half a dozen 
men. When at last we arrived at the trenches, which were 
scooped at a roadside and only about three feet deep, the 
company we were relieving hurried out without any of the 
usual formalities; they had been badly shaken. I asked their 
ofiicer where the Germans were. He said he didn’t know, 
but pointed vaguely towards Martinpxiich, a mile to our 
front. Then I asked him where and what were the troops 
on our left. He didn’t know. I cursed him and he went off. 
We got into touch with C Company behind us on the right 
and with the Fourth Sxaffolks not far off on the left. We 
began deepening the trenches and locating the Germans; 
they were in a trench-system about five hundred yards away 
but keeping fairly quiet. 

The next day there was very heavy shelling at noon; 
shells were bracketing along our trench about five yards 
short and five yards over, but never quite getting it. We 
were having dinner and three times running my cup of tea 
was spilt by the concussion and filled with dirt. I was in a 
cheerful mood and only laughed. I had just had a parcel of 
kippers from home; they were far more important than the 
bombardment — I recalled with appreciation one of my 


mother’s sayings: ‘Children, remember this when you eat 
your kippers; kippers cost little, yet if they cost a hundred 
guineas a pair they would still find buyers among the 
millionaires.' Before the shelling had started a tame magpie 
had come into the trench; it had apparently belonged to the 
Germans who had been driven out of the village by the 
Gordon Highlanders a day or two before. It was looking 
very draggled. ‘That’s one for sorrow,’ I said. The men 
swore that it spoke something in German as it came in, but 
I did not hear it. I was feeling tired and was oflF duty, so 
without waiting for the bombardment to stop I went to 
sleep in the trench. I decided that I would just as soon be 
killed asleep as awake. There were no dug-outs, of course. 
I always found it easy now to sleep through bombardments. 
I was conscious of the noise in my sleep, but I let it go by. 
Yet if anybody came to wake me for my watch or shouted 
‘Stand-tol’ I was alert in a second. I had learned to go to 
sleep sitting down, standing up, marching, lying on a stone 
floor, or in any other position, at a moment’s notice at any 
time of day or night. But now I had a dreadful nightmare; 
it was as though somebody was handling me secretly, choos- 
ing the place to drive a knife into me. Finally, he gripped 
me in the small of the back. I woke up with a start, shouting, 
and punched the small of my back where the hand was. I 
found that I had killed a mouse that had been frightened 
by the bombardment and run down my neck. 

That afternoon the company got an order through from 
the brigade to build two cruciform strong-points at such-and- 
such a map reference. Moodie, the company commander, 
and I looked at our map and laughed. Moodie sent back a 
message that he would be glad to do so, but would require 
an artillery bombardment and strong reinforcements because 


the points selected, half way to Martinpuich, were occupied 
in force by the enemy. The colonel came up and verified 
this. He said that we should build the strong-point about 
three hundred yards forward and two hundred yards apart. 
So one platoon stayed behind in the trench and the other 
went out and started digging. A cruciform strong-point 
consisted of two trenches, each some thirty yards long, cross- 
ing at right angles to each other; it was wired all round, so 
that it looked, in diagram, like a hot-cross bun. The defenders 
could bring fire to bear against an attack from any direction. 
We were to hold each of these points with a Lewis gun and 
a platoon of men. 

It was a bright moonlight night. My way to the strong- 
point on the right took me along the Bazentin-High Wood 
road. A German sergeant-major, wearing a pack and full 
equipment, was lying on his back in the middle of the road, 
his arms stretched out wide. He was a short, powerful man 
with a full black beard. He looked sinister in the moonlight; 
I needed a charm to get myself past him. The simplest way, 
I found, was to cross myself. Evidently a brigade of the 
Seventh Division had captured the road and the Germans 
had been shelling it heavily. It was a sunken road and the 
defenders had begun to scrape fire-positions in the north 
bank, fa,cing the Germans. The work had apparently been 
interrupted by a counter-attack. They had done no more 
than scrape hollows in the lower part of the bank. To a 
number of these little hollows wounded men had crawled, 
put their heads and shoulders inside and died there. Th^ 
looked as if they had tried to hide firom the black beard. 
They were Gordon Highlanders. 

I was visiting the strong-point on the right. The trench 
had now been dug two or three feet down and a party of 


Engineers had arrived with coils of barbed wire for the 
entanglement. I found that work had stopped. The whisper 
went round: ‘Get your rifles ready. Here comes Fritz.’ I lay 
down flat to see'better, and about seventy yards away in the 
moonlight I could make out massed figures. I immediately 
sent a man back to the company to find Moodie and ask him 
for a Lewis gun and a flare-pistol. I restrained the men, who 
were itching to fire, telling them to wait until they came 
closer. I said: ‘They probably don’t know we’re here and 
we’ll get more of them if we let them come right up close. 
They may even surrender.’ The Germans were wandering 
about irresolutely and we wondered what the game was. 
There had been a number of German surrenders at night 
recently, and this might be one on a big scale. Then Moodie 
came running with a Lewis gun, the flare-pistol, and a few 
more men with rifle-grenades. He decided to give the 
enemy a chance. He sent up a flare and fired a Lewis gun 
over their heads. A tall officer came running towards us 
with his hands up in surrender. He was surprised to find 
that we were not Germans. He said that he belonged to the 
Public Schools Battalion in our own brigade. Moodie asked 
him what the hell he was doing. He said that he was in 
command of a patrol. He was sent back for a few more of 
his men, to make sure it was not a trick. The patrol was 
half a company of men wandering about aimlessly between 
the lines, their rifles slung over their shoulders, and, it 
seemed, without the faintest idea where they were or what 
information they were supposed to bring back. This Public 
Schools Battalion was one of four or five others which had 
been formed some time in 1914. Their training had been 
continually interrupted by large numbers of men being 
withdrawn as officers for other regiments. The only men 


left, in fact, seemed to be those who were unfitted to hold 
commissions; yet unfitted by their education to make good 
soldiers in the ranks. The other battalions had been left 
behind in England as training battalions; only this one had 
been sent out. It was a constant embarrassment to the 

I picked up a souvenir that night. A German gun-team 
had been shelled as it was galloping out of Bazentin towards 
Martinpuich. The horses and the driver had been killed. 
At the back of the limber were the gunners* treasures. 
Among them was a large lump of chalk wrapped up in a 
piece of cloth; it had been carved and decorated in colours 
with military mottos, the flags of the Central Powers, and the 
names of the various battles in which the gunner had served. 
I sent it as a present to Dr. Dunn. I am glad to say that 
both he and it survived the war; he is in practice at Glasgow, 
and the lump of chalk is under a glass case in his consulting 
room. The evening of the next day, July 19th, we were 
relieved. We were told that we would be attacking High 
Wood, which we could see a thousand yards away to the 
right at the top of a slope. High Wood was on the main 
German battle-line, which ran along the ridge, with Delville 
Wood not far off on the German left. Two British brigades 
had already attempted it; in both cases the counter-attack 
had driven them out. Our battalion had had a large number 
of casualties and was now only about four hundred strong. 

I have kept a battalion order issued at midnight: 


‘To O.C. B Co. 2nd R.W.F. 20.7.16. 

Ch. XX 












were i , 









A Coy. 

12.30 a.m. 

B Coy. 


C Coy. 

I a.m. 

D Coy. 

1. 15 a.m. 



2 a.m. 









Si4b 99. 
















olF aaa 

Si4b 99 was a map reference for Bazentin churchyard. We 
lay here on the reverse slope of a slight ridge about 
half a mile from the wood. I attended the meeting of 
company commanders; the colonel told us the plan. He said: 
'Look here, you fellows, we’re in reserve for this attack. 
The Cameronians are going up to the wood first, then the 
Fifth Scottish Rifles; that’s at five a.m. The Public Schools 
Battalion are in support if anything goes wrong. I don’t 


know if we shall be called on; if we are, it will mean that the 
Jocks have legged it. As usual/ he added. This was an 
appeal to prejudice. ‘The Public Schools Battalion is, well, 
what we know, so if we are called for, that means it will be 
the end of us.’ He said this with a laugh and we all laughed. 
We were sitting on the ground protected by the road-bank; 
a battery of French 75’s was firing rapid over our heads about 
twenty yards away. There was a very great concentration 
of guns in Happy Valley now. We could hardly hear what he 
was saying. He told us that if we did get orders to reinforce, 
we were to shake out in artillery formation; once in the wood 
we were to hang on like death. Then he said good-bye and 
good luck and we rejoined our companies. 

At this juncture the usual inappropriate message came 
through from Division. Division could always be trusted 
to send through a warning about verdigris on vermorel- 
sprayers, or the keeping of pets in trenches, or being polite 
to our allies, or some other triviality, when an attack was in 
progress. This time it was an order for a private in C 
Company to report immediately to the assistant provost- 
marshal back at Albert, under escort of a lance-corporal. He 
was for a court-martial. A sergeant of the company was also 
ordered to report as a witness in the case. The private was 
charged with the murder of a French civilian in an estaminet 
at Bdthune about a month previously. Apparently there had 
been a good deal of brandy going and the French civilian, 
who had a grudge against the British (it was about his wife), 
started to tease the private. He was reported, somewhat 
improbably, as having said: ‘English no bon, Allmand tr& 
bon. War fineesh, napoo the English. Allmand win.’" The 
private had immediately drawn his bayonet and run the man 
through. At the court-martial the private was exculpated; 


the French civil representative commended him for having 
‘energetically repressed local defeatism.’ So he and the two 
N.C.O.’s missed the battle. 

What the battle that they missed was like I pieced to- 
gether afterwards. The Jocks did get into the wood and the 
Royal Welch were not called on to reinforce until eleven 
o’clock in the morning. The Germans put down a barrage 
along the ridge where we were lying, and we lost about a 
third of the battalion before our show started. I was one of 
the casualties. 

It was heavy stuff, six and eight inch. There was so 
much of it that we decided to move back fifty yards; it was 
when I was running that an eight-inch shell burst about 
three paces behind me. I was able to work that out after- 
wards by the line of my wounds. I heard the explosion 'and 
felt as though I had been punched rather hard between the 
shoulder-blades, but had no sensation of pain. I thought 
that the punch was merely the shock of the explosion; then 
blood started trickling into my eye and I felt faint and called 
to Moodie: ‘I’ve been hit.’ Then I fell down. A minute or 
two before I had had two very small wounds on my left hand; 
they were in exactly the same position as the two, on my 
right hand, that I had got during the preliminary bom- 
bardment at Loos. This I had taken as a sign that I would 
come through all right. For further security I had repeated 
to myself a line of Nietsche’s, whose poems, in French, I 
had with me: 

Non, tu ne peus pas me tuer. 

It was the poem about a man on the scaffold with the 
red-bearded executioner standing over him. (This copy of 

Ch. XX 



Nietsche, by the way, had contributed to the suspicions about 
me as a spy. Nietsche was execrated in the papers as the 
philosopher of German militarism; he was more popularly 
interpreted as a William le Queux mystery-man — the 
sinister figure behind the Kaiser.) 

One piece of shell went through my left thigh, high up 
near the groin; I must have been at the full stretch of my 
stride to have escaped emasculation. The wound over the 
eye was nothing; it was a little chip of marble, possibly from 
one of the Bazentin cemetery headstones. This and a finger 
wound, which split the bone, probably came from another 
shell that burst in front of me. The main wound was made 
by a piece of shell that went in two inches below the point of 
my right shoulder and came out through my chest two 
inches above my right nipple, in a line between it and the 
base of my neck. 

My memory of what happened then is vague. Apparently 
Doctor Dunn came up through the barrage with a stretcher- 
party, dressed my wound, and got me down to the old 
German dressing-station at the north end of Mametz Wood. 
I just remember being put on the stretcher and winking at 
the stretcher-bearer sergeant who was looking at me and 
saying: ‘Old Gravy’s got it, all right.’ The dressing-station 
was overworked that day; I was laid in a corner on a stretcher 
and remained xmconscious for more than twenty-four hours. 

It was about ten o’clock on the 20th that I was hit. Late 
that night the colonel came to the dressing-station; he saw 
me lying in the corner and was told that I was done for. 
The next morning, the 21st, when they were clearing away 
the dead, I was found to be still breathing; so they put me on 
an ambulance for Heilly, the nearest field-hospital. The pain 
of being jolted down the Happy Valley, with a shell-hole at 


every three or four yards of the roads, woke me for awhile. 
I remember screaming. But once back on the better roads 
I became unconscious again. That morning the colonel 
wrote the usual formal letters of condolence to the next-of- 
kin of the six or seven officers who had been killed. This was 
his letter to my mother: 


Dear Mrs. Graves, 

I very much regret to have to write and tell you your 
son has died of wounds. He was very gallant, and was 
doing so well and is a great loss. 

He was hit by a shell and very badly wounded, and 
died on the way down to the base I believe. He was not 
in bad pain, and our doctor managed to get across and 
attend him at once. 

We have had a very hard time, and our casualties have 
been large. Believe me you have all our sympathy in your 
loss, and we have lost a very gallant soldier. 

Please write to me if I can tell you or do anything. 

Yours sincerely, 

* * * 

Later he made out the official casualty list and reported me 
died of wounds. It was a long casualty list, because only 
eighty men were left in the battalion. 

Heilly was on the railway; close to the station was the 
hospital — marquee tents with the red cross painted pro- 
minently on the roofs to discourage air-bombing. It was 
fine July weather and the tents were insufferably hot. I 
was semi-conscious now, and realized my lung-wound by 
the shortness of breath. I was amused to watch the little 


bubbles of blood, like red soap-bubbles, that my breath made 
when it escaped through the hole of the wound. The doctor 
came over to me. I felt sorry for him; he looked as though 
he had not had any sleep for days. I asked him for a drink. 
He said: ‘Would you like some tea?’ I whispered: ‘Not with 
condensed milk in it.’ He said: ‘I’m afraid there’s no fresh 
milk.’ Tears came to my eyes; I expected better of a hospital 
behind the lines. He said: ‘Will you have some water?’ 
I said; ‘Not if it’s boiled.’ He said: ‘It is boiled. And I’m 
afraid I can’t give you anything with alcohol in it in your 
present condition.’ I said: ‘Give me some fruit then.’ He 
said: ‘I have seen no fruit for days.’ But a few minutes later 
he came back with two rather unripe greengages. I felt so 
grateful that I promised him a whole orchard when I 

The nights of the 22nd and 2 3rd were very bad. Early on 
the morning of the 24th, when the doctor came to see how 
I was, I said: ‘You must send me away from Here. The heat 
will kill me.’ It was beating through the canvas on my head. 
He said: ‘Stick it out. It’s your best chance to lie here and 
not to be moved. You’d not reach the base alive.’ I said: 
‘I’d like to risk the move. I’ll be all right, you’ll see.’ 
Half an hour later he came back. ‘Well, you’re having it 
your way. I’ve just got orders to evacuate every case in the 
hospital. Apparently the Guards have been in it up at 
Delville Wood and we’ll have them all coming in to-night.’ 
I had no fears now about dying. I was content to be wounded 
and on the way home. 

I had been given news of the battalion from a brigade- 
major, wounded in the leg, who was in the next bed to me. 
He looked at my label and said: ‘I see you’re in the Second 
Royal Welch Fusiliers. Well, I saw your High Wood show 


through field-glasses. The way your battalion shook out 
into artillery formation, company by company -with each 
section of four or five men in file at fifty yards interval and 
distance - going down into the hollow and up the slope 
through the barrage, was the most beautiful bit of parade- 
ground drill I’ve ever seen. Your company officers must 
have been superb.’ I happened to know that one company 
at least had started without a single officer. I asked him 
whether they had held the wood. He said: ‘They hung on 
at the near end. I believe what happened was that the Public 
Schools Battalion came away as soon as it got dark; and so 
did the Scotsmen. Your chaps were left there alone for some 
time. They steadied themselves by singing. Later, the 
chaplain - R.C. of course - Father McCabe, brought the 
Scotsmen back. They were Glasgow Catholics and would 
follow a priest where they wouldn’t follow an officer. The 
middle of the wood was impossible for either the Germans 
or your fellows to hold. There was a terrific concentration 
of artillery on it. The trees were splintered to matchwood. 
Late that night the survivors were relieved by a brigade ot 
the Seventh Division; your First Battalion was in it.’ 

That evening I was put in the hospital train. They could 
not lift me from the stretcher to put me on a bunk, for fear 
of starting haemorrhage in the lung; so they laid the stretcher 
on top of it, with the handles resting on the head-rail and 
foot-rail. I had been on the same stretcher since I was 
wounded. I remember the journey only as a nightmare. 

My back was sagging, and I could not raise my knees to 
relieve the cramp because the bunk above me was only a 
few inches away. A German officer on the other side of the 
carriage groaned and wept unceasingly. He had been in 
an aeroplane crash and had a compound fracture of the 


leg. The other wounded men were cursing him and telling 
him to stow it and be a man, but he went on, keeping every 
one awake. He was not delirious, only frightened and in 
great pain. An orderly gave me a pencil and paper and I 
wrote home to say that I was wounded but all right. This 
was July 24th, my twenty-first birthday, and it was on this 
day, when I arrived at Rouen, that my death ofiicially 
occurred. My parents got my letter two days after the letter 
from the colonel; mine was dated July 23 rd, because I had 
lost count of days when I was unconscious; his was dated 
the 22nd.^ They could not decide whether my letter had 
been written just before I died and misdated, or whether I 
had died just after writing it. ‘Died of wounds’ was, how- 
ever, so much more circumstantial than ‘killed’ that they 
gave me up. I was in No. 8 Hospital at Rouen; an ex-chiteau 
high above the town. The day after I arrived a Cooper aunt 
of mine, who had married a Frenchman, came up to the 
hospital to visit a nephew in the South Wales Borderers 
who had just had a leg amputated. She happened to see 
my name in a list on the door of the ward, so she wrote to 
my mother to reassure her. On the 30th I had a letter from 
the colonel: 


Dear von Runicke, 

I cannot tell you how pleased I am you are alive. I was 
told your number was up for certain, and a letter was 
supposed to have come in from Field Ambulance saying 
you had gone under. 

Well, it’s good work. We had a rotten time, and after 

^ I cannot explain the discrepancy between his dating of my death and 
that of the published casualty list. 


succeeding in doing practically the impossible we collected 
that rotten crowd and put them in their places, but 
directly dark came they legged it. It was too sad. 

We lost heavily. It is not fair putting brave men like 
ours alongside that crowd. I also wish to thank you for 
your good work and bravery, and only wish you could 
have been with them. I have read of bravery but I have 
never seen such magnificent and wonderful disregard for 
death as I saw that day. It was almost xmcanny - it was 
so great. I once heard an old officer in the Royal Welch 
say the men would follow you to Hell; but these chaps 
would bring you back and put you in a dug-out in Heaven. 

Good luck and a quick recovery. I shall drink your 
health to-night. 

* * 

I had little pain all this time, but much discomfort; the 
chief pain came from my finger, which had turned septic 
because nobody had taken the trouble to dress it, and was 
throbbing. And from the thigh, where the sticky medical 
plaster, used to hold down the dressing, pulled up the hair 
painfully when it was taken off each time the wound was 
dressed. My breath was very short still. I contrasted the 
pain and discomfort favourably with that of the operation 
on my nose of two months back; for this I had won no 
sympathy at all from anyone, because it was not an injury 
contracted in war. I was weak and petulant and muddled. 
The R.A.M.C. bugling outraged me. The ‘Rob All My 
Comrades,’ I complained, had taken everything I had except 
a few papers in my tunic-pocket and a ring which was too 
tight on my finger to be pulled off; and now they mis-blew 
the Last Post flat and windily, and with the pauses in the 


wrong places, just to annoy me. I remember that I told an 
orderly to put the bugler under arrest and jximp to it or 
rd report him to the senior medical officer. 

Next to me was a Welsh boy, named O. M. Roberts, who 
had joined us only a few days before he was hit. He told me 
about High Wood; he had reached the edge of the wood 
when he was wounded in the groin. He had fallen into a 
shell-hole. Some time in the afternoon he had recovered 
consciousness and seen a German officer working round the 
edge of the wood, killing off the wounded with an automatic 
pistol. Some of our lightly-wounded were, apparently, not 
behaving as wounded men should; they were sniping. The 
German worked nearer. He saw Roberts move and came 
towards him, fired and hit him in the arm. Roberts was 
very weak and tugged at his Webley. He had great difficulty 
in getting it out of the holster. The German fired again and 
missed. Roberts rested the Webley against the lip of the 
shell-hole and tried to pull the trigger; he was not strong 
enough. The German was quite close now and was going 
to make certain of him this time. Roberts said that he just 
managed to pull the trigger with the fingers of both hands 
when the German was only about five yards away. The shot 
took the top of his head off. Roberts fainted. 

The doctors had been anxiously watching my lung, which 
was gradually filling with blood and pressing my heart too 
far away to the left of my body; the railway journey had 
restarted the haemorrhage. They marked the gradual pro- 
gress of my heart with an indelible pencil on my skin and 
said that when it reached a certain point they would have 
to aspirate me. This sounded a serious operation, but it only 
consisted of putting a hollow needle into my lung through 
the back and drawing the blood off into a vacuum fiask 

28 o good-bye to all THAT Ch.xx 

through it. I had a local anassthetic; it hurt no more than a 
vaccination, and I was reading the Gazette de Rouen as the 
blood hissed into the flask. It did not look much, perhaps 
half a pint. That evening I heard a sudden burst of lovely 
singing in the coirrtyard where the ambulances pulled up. 
I recognized the quality of the voices. I said to Roberts: 
The First Battalion have been in it again,’ and asked a nurse 
to verify it; I was right. It was their Delville Wood show, 
I think, but I am uncertain now of the date. 

A day or two later I was taken back to England by hospital 

I HAD sent my parents a wire that I would be arriving at 
Waterloo Station the next morning. The way from the 
hospital train to the waiting ambulances was roped olF; as 
each stretcher case was lifted off the train a huge hysterical 
crowd surged up to the barrier and uttered a new roar. 
Flags were being waved. It seemed that the Somme battle 
was regarded at home as the beginning of the end of the war. 
As I idly looked at the crowd, one figure detached itself; it 
was my father, hopping about on one leg, waving an 
umbrella and cheering with the best of them. I was em- 
barrassed, but was soon in the ambulance. I was on the way 
to Queen Alexandra’s Hospital, Highgate. This was Sir 
Alfred Mond’s big house, lent for the duration of the war, 
and a really good place to be in; having a private room to 
myself was the most unexpected luxury. 

What I most disliked in the army was never being alone, 
forced to live and sleep with men whose company in many 
cases I would have ruft miles to avoid. 

I was not long at Highgate; the lung healed up easily and 
my finger was saved for me. I heard here for the first time 
that I was supposed to be dead; the joke contributed greatly 
to my recovery. The people with whom I had been on the 
worst terms during my life wrote the most enthusiastic 
condolences to my parents: my housemaster, for instance. 
I have kept a letter dated the 5th August 1916 from The Times 
advertisement department: 

Ch. xxi 


Captain Robert Graves. 

Dear Sir, 

We have to acknowledge receipt of your letter 
with reference to the announcement contradicting the 
report of your death from wounds. Having regard, how- 
ever, to the fact that we had previously published some 
biographical details, we inserted your announcement in 
our issue of to-day (Saturday) under ‘Court Circular’ 
without charge, and we have much pleasure in enclosing 
herewith cutting of same. 

Yours, etc. 

The cutting read: 

Captain Robert Graves, Royal Welch Fusiliers, officially 
reported died of wounds, wishes to inform his friends that 
he is recovering from his wounds at Queen Alexandra’s 
Hospital, Highgate, N. 

# # # 

Mrs. Lloyd George has left London for Criccieth. 

* * * 

I never saw the biographical details supplied by my father; 
they might have been helpful to me here. Some letters written 
to me in France were returned to him as my next-of-kin. 
They were surcharged: ‘‘Died of wounds — present location 
uncertain. — P. Down, post-corporal.’ The only inconven- 
ience that my death caused me was that Cox’s Bank stopped 
my pay and I had difficulty in persuading it to honour my 
cheques. I had a letter from Siegfried telling me that he was 
overjoyed to hear I was alive again. (I wondered whether he 
had been avenging me.) He was now back in England with 


suspected lung trouble. We agreed to take our leave together 
at Harlech when I was better. Siegfried wrote that he was 
nine parts dead from the horror of the Somme fighting. 

I was able to travel early in September. We met at Pad- 
dington. Siegfried bought a copy of The Times at the 
bookstall. As usual we turned to the casualty list first; and 
found there the names of practically every officer in the 
First Battalion, either killed or wounded. Edmund Dadd 
was killed. His brother Julian, in Siegfried’s company, 
wounded. (Shot through the throat, as we learned later, 
only able to talk in a whisper, and for months utterly pros- 
trated. It had been at Ale Alley at Ginchy, on 3rd Septem- 
ber. A dud show; the battalion had been outflanked in a 
counter-attack.) News like this in England was far more 
upsetting than when one was in France. I was still very 
weak and could not help crying all the way up to Wales. 
Siegfried said bitterly: ‘Well, I expect the colonel got his c.b. 
at any rate.’ England was strange to the returned soldier. 
He could not understand the war-madness that ran about 
everywhere looking for a pseudo-military outlet. Every one 
talked a foreign language; it was newspaper language. 
I found serious conversation with my parents all but im- 
possible. A single typical memorial of this time will be 


By A Little Mother 



O'Voing to the immense demand from home and from the 
trenches for this letter y which appeared in the ''M.oming Postf 

Ch. XXI 


the Editor found it necessary to -place it in the hands of London 
publishers to he reprinted in pamphlet form, seventy-five thousand 
copies of which were sold in less than a week direct from the 

Extract from a Letter from Her Majesty 
‘The Queen was deeply touched at the “Little Mother’s” 
beautiful letter, and Her Majesty fully realizes what her 
words must mean to our soldiers in the trenches and in 

To the Editor of the Morning Post* 

Sir, - As a mother of an only child - a son who was early 
and eager to do his duty - may I be permitted to reply to 
Tommy Atkins, whose letter appeared in your issue of the 
9 th inst.? Perhaps he will kindly convey to his friends in 
the trenches, not what the Government thinks, not what the 
Pacifists think, but what the mothers of the British race 
think of our fighting men. It is a voice which demands to 
be heard, seeing that we play the most important part in the 
history of the world, for it is we who ‘mother the men’ who 
have to uphold the honour and traditions not only of our 
Empire but of the whole civilized world. 

To the man who pathetically calls himself a ‘common 
soldier,’ may I say that we women, who demand to be 
heard, will tolerate no such cry as ‘Peace! Peace!’ where 
there is no peace. The corn that will wave over land watered 
by the blood of our brave lads shall testify to the future 
that their blood was not spilt in vain. We need no marble 
monuments to remind us. We only need that force of 
character behind all motives to see this monstrous world 


tragedy brought to a victorious ending. The blood of the 
dead and the dying, the blood of the ‘common soldier’ from 
his ‘slight wounds’ will not cry to us in vain. They have all 
done their share, and we, as women, will do ours without 
murmuring and without complaint. Send the Pacifists to us 
and we shall very soon show them, and show the world, 
that in our homes at least there shall be no ‘sitting at home 
warm and cosy in the winter, cool and “comfy” in the 
Slimmer.’ There is only one temperature for the women ot 
the British race, and that is white heat. With those who 
disgrace their sacred trust of motherhood we have nothing 
in common. Our ears are not deaf to the cry that is ever 
ascending from the battlefield from men of flesh and blood 
whose indomitable courage is borne to us, so to speak, on 
every blast of the wind. We women pass on the human 
ammunition of ‘only sons’ to fill up the gaps, so that when 
the ‘common soldier’ looks back before going ‘over the top’ 
he may see the women of the British race on his heels, 
reliable, dependent, uncomplaining. 

The reinforcements of women are, therefore, behind the 
‘common soldier.’ We gentle-nurtured, timid sex did not 
want the war. It is no pleasure to us to have our homes 
made desolate and the apple of our eye taken away. We 
would sooner our lovable, promising, rollicking boy stayed 
at school. We would have much preferred to have gone on 
in a light-hearted way with our amusements and our hobbies. 
But the bugle call came, and we have hung up the tennis 
racquet, we’ve fetched our laddie from school, we’ve put 
his cap away, and we have glanced lovingly over his last 
report which said ‘Excellent’ - we’ve wrapped them all in a 
Union Jack and locked them up, to be taken out only after 
the war to be looked at. A ‘common soldier,’ perhaps, did 


not count on the women, but they have their part to play, 
and we have risen to our responsibility. We are proud of our 
men, and they in turn have to be proud of us. If the men 
fail, Tommy Atkins, the women won’t. 

Tommy Atkins to the front. 

He has gone to bear the brunt. 

Shall ‘stay-at-homes’ do naught but snivel and but sigh.? 
No, while your eyes are filling 
We are up and doing, willing 
To face the music with you — or to die! 

Women are created for the purpose of giving life, and men 
to take it. Now we are giving it in a double sense. It’s not 
likely we are going to fail Tommy. We shall not flinch one 
iota, but when the war is over he must not grudge us, when 
we hear the bugle call of ‘Lights out,’ a brief, very brief, space 
of time to withdraw into our own secret chambers and share 
with Rachel the Silent the lonely anguish of a bereft heart, 
and to look once more on the college cap, before we emerge 
stronger women to carry on the glorious work our men’s 
memories have handed down to us for now and all eternity. 

Yours, etc., 

A Little Mother. 


‘The widest possible circulation is of the utmost im- 
portance.’ — The Morning Post. 

‘Deservedly attracting a great deal of attention, as ex- 
pressing with rare eloquence and force the feelings with 


which the British wives and mothers have faced and are 
facing the supreme sacrifice.’ — The Morning Post. 

‘Excites widespread interest.’ — The Gentlewoman. 

‘A letter which has become celebrated.’ — The Star. 

‘We would like to see it hung up in our wards.’ — Hospital 

‘One of the grandest things ever written, for it combines 
a height of courage with a depth of tenderness which should 
be, and is, the stamp of all that is noblest and best in human 
nature.’ — A Soldier in France. 

‘Florence Nightingale did great and grand things for the 
soldiers of her day, but no woman has done more than the 
‘Little Mother,” whose now famous letter in the Morning 
Post has spread like wild-fire from trench to trench. I hope to 
God it will be handed down in history, for nothing like it 
has ever made such an impression on our fighting men. 
I defy any man to feel weak-hearted after reading it. . . . 
My ^d! she makes us die happy.’ — One who has Fought 
and Bled. 

‘Worthy of far more than a passing notice; it ought to be 
reprinted and sent out to every man at the front. It is a 
masterpiece and fills one with pride, noble, level-headed, and 
pathetic to a degree.’ — Severely Wounded. 

‘I have lost my two dear boys, but since I -vras shown the 
“Little Mother’s” beautiful letter a resignation too perfect 
to describe has calmed all my aching sorrow, and I would 
now gladly give my sons twice over.’ — A Bereaved Mother. 

‘The “Little Mother’s” letter should reach every corner 
of the earth -a letter of the loftiest ideal, tempered with 
courage and the most sublime sacrifice.’ - PmsW H. 

‘The exquisite letter by a “Little Mother” is making us 


feel prouder eveiy day. We women desire to fan the flame 
which she has so superbly kindled in our hearts.’ — British 
Mother of an Only Son. 

At Harlech, Siegfried and I spent the time getting our 
poems in order; Siegfried was at work on his Old Huntsman. 
We made a number of changes in each other’s verses; I 
remember that I proposed amendments which he accepted 
in his obituary poem ‘To His Dead Body’ — written for me 
when he thought me dead. We were beginning to wonder 
whether it was right for the war to be continued. It was 
said that Asquith in the autumn of 1915 had been offered 
peace-terms on the basis of status quo ante and that he had 
been willing to consider them; that his colleagues had 
opposed him, and that this was the reason for the fall of the 
Liberal Government, and for the ‘Win-the-War’ Coalition 
Government of Lloyd George that superseded it. We both 
thought that the terms should have been accepted, though 
Siegfried was more vehement than I was on the subject. 
The view we had of the war was now non-political. We no 
longer saw it as a war between trade-rivals; its continuance 
seemed merely a sacrifice of the idealistic younger generation 
to the stupidity and self-protective alarm of the elder. I made 
a facetious marginal note on a poem I wrote about this 
time, called Goliath and David (in which the biblical legend 
was reversed and David was killed by Goliath): 

‘War should be a sport for men above forty-five only, 
the Jesse’s, not the David’s. “Well, dear father, how proud 
I am of you ser\'ing your country as a very gallant gentle- 
man prepared to make even the supreme sacrifice. I only 
wish I were your age: how willingly would I buckle on 

Cb. XXI 


my armour and fight those unspeakable Philistines! As 
it is, of course, I can't be spared; I have to stay behind 
at the War 0£Bce and administrate for you lucky old men.” 
“What sacrifices I have made,” David would sigh when 
the old boys had gone off with a draft to the front singing 
Tipperary. “There’s father and my Uncle Salmon and 
both my grandfathers, all on active service. I must put a 
card in the window about it.” ’ 

We defined the war in our poems by making contrasted 
definitions of peace. With Siegfried it was hunting and 
nature and music and pastoral scenes; with me it was chiefly 
children. When I was in France I used to spend much of 
my spare time playing with the French children of the 
villages in which I was billeted. I put them into my poems, 
and my own childhood at Harlech. I called my book Fairies 
and Fusiliers^ and dedicated it to the regiment. 

Siegfried stayed a few weeks. When he had gone I began 
the novel on which my earlier war chapters are based, but 
it remained a rough draft. 

In September I went for a visit to Kent, to the house of a 
First Battalion friend who had recently been wounded. His 
elder brother had been killed in the Dardanelles, and his 
mother kept his bedroom exactly as he had left it, with the 
sheets aired, his linen always freshly laundered, and flowers 
and cigarettes by his bedside. She was religious and went 
about with a vague bright look on her face. The first night 
I spent there my friend and I sat up talking about the war 
until after twelve o’clock. His mother had gone to bed early, 
after urging us not to get too tired. The talk excited me but 
I managed to fall asleep at about one o’clock. I was con- 
tinually awakened by sudden rapping noises which I at first 




tried to disregard but which grew louder and louder. They 
seemed to come from everywhere. I lay in a cold sweat. 
About three o’clock I heard a diabolic yell and a succession 
of laughing, sobbing shrieks that sent me flying to the door. 
I collided in the passage with the mother, who, to my 
surprise, was fully dressed. She said: ‘It’s nothing. One of 
the maids has hysterics. I am so sorry you have been 
disturbed.’ So I went back to bed, but I could not sleep 
though the noises had stopped. In the morning I said to 
my friend: ‘I’m leaving this place. It’s worse than France.’ 

In November Siegfried and I rejoined the battalion at 
Litherland and shared a hut together. We decided that it 
was no use making a protest against the war. Every one 
was mad; we were hardly sane ourselves. Siegfried said that 
we had to ‘keep up the good reputation of the poets,’ as men 
of courage, he meant. The best place for us was back in 
France away from the more shameful madness of home 
service. Our function there was not to kill Germans, though 
that might happen, but to make things easier for the men 
under our command. For them the difference between 
being under someone whom they could covmt as a friend, 
someone who protected them as much as he could from the 
grosser indignities of the military system and having to 
study the whims of any thoughtless, petty tyrant in an 
ofiicer’s tunic, was all the difference in the world. By this 
time the ranks of both line battalions were filled with men 
who had enlisted for patriotic reasons and the professional- 
soldier tradition was hard on them. . . . Siegfried, for instance, 
on (I think) the day before the Fricourt attack. The attack 
had been rehearsed for a week over dummy trenches in the 
back areas until the whole performance was perfect, in fact 


almost stale. Siegfried was told to rehearse once more. 
Instead, he led his platoon into a wood and read to them — 
nothing military or literary, just the London Mail. Though 
the London Mail was not in his line, Siegfried thought that 
the men would enjoy the ‘Things We Want to Know’ column. 

Officers of the Royal Welch were honorary members of a 
neighbouring golf club. Siegfried and I used to go there 
often. He played golf and I hit a ball alongside him. I had 
once played at Harlech as a junior member of the Royal St. 
David’s, but I had given it up before long because it was 
bad for my temper. I was afraid of taking it up again 
seriously, so now I limited myself to a single club. When I 
mishit it did not matter. I played the fool and purposely 
put Siegfried off his game; he was a serious golfer. It was 
the time of great food shortage; the submarines sank about 
every fourth food ship, and there was a strict meat, butter and 
sugar ration. But the war did not seem to have reached 
the links. The principal business men of Liverpool were 
members of the club and did not mean to go short while 
there was any food at all coming in at the docks. Siegfried 
and I went to the club-house for lunch on the day before 
Christmas; there was a cold buffet in the club dining-room 
offering hams, barons' of beef, jellied tongues, cold roast 
turkey and chicken. A large, meaty-faced waiter pr^ided. 
Siegfried satirically asked him; ‘Is this all? There doesn’t 
seem to be quite such a good spread as in pre-vious years.’ 
The waiter apologized: ‘No, sir, this isn’t quite up to the 
usual mark, sir,' but we are expecting a more satisfactory 
consignment of meat on Boxing Day.’ The dining-room at 
the club-house was always full, the links were practically 

The favourite rendezvous of the officers of the Mersey 


garrison was the Adelphi Hotel. It had a cocktail bar and a 
swimming bath. The cocktail bar was generally crowded 
with Russian naval officers, always very drunk. One day I 
met a major of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers there. 
I saluted him. He told me confidentially, taking me aside: 
‘It’s nice of you to salute me, my boy, but I must confess 
that I am not what I seem. I wear a crown on my sleeve 
and so does a company sergeant-major; but then he’s not 
entitled to wear these tl^ee cuff bands and the wavy border. 
Look at them, aren’t they pretty? As I was saying. I’m not 
what I seem to be. I’m a sham. I’ve got a sergeant-major’s 
stomach.’ I was quite accustomed to drunken senior officers, 
so I answered respectfully: ‘Really, major, and how did you 
come to get that?’ He said: ‘You think I’m drunk. Well, 
I am if you like, but it’s true about my stomach. You see 
I was in that Beaximont-Hamel show and I got shot in the 
guts. It hurt like hell, let me tell you. They got me down 
to the field-hospital. I was busy dying; there was a company 
sergeant-major in the hospital at the time and he had got 
it through the head, and he was busy dying, too, and he did 
die. Well, as soon as the sergeant-major died they took out 
that long gut, whatever you call the thing, the thing that 
unwinds - they say it’s as long as a cricket pitch — and they 
put it into me, grafted it on somehow. Wonderful chaps these 
medicos. They can put in spare parts as if one was a motor- 
car. Well, this sergeant-major seems to have been an 
abstemious man; the lining of the new gut is much better 
than my old one; so I’m celebrating it. I only wish I had 
his kidneys too.’ 

An RJ\..M.C. captain was sitting by. He broke into the 
conversation. ‘Yes, major, I know what a stomach wound’s 
like. It’s the worst of the lot. You were lucky to reach the 


field-ambulance alive. The best chance is to lie absolutely 
still. I got mine out between the lines, bandaging a fellow. 
I flopped into a shell-hole. My stretcher-bearers wanted 
to carry me back, but I wasn’t having any. I kept everyone 
off with a revolver for forty-eight hours. That saved my 
life. I couldn’t count on a spare gut waiting for me at the 
dressing-station. My only chance was to lie still and let it 

In December I attended a medical board; they examined 
my wound and asked me how I was feeling. The president 
wanted to know whether I wanted a few months more home 
service. I said: ‘No, sir, I should be much obliged if you 
would pass me fit for service overseas.’ In January I went 
out again. 

I went back as an old soldier; my kit and baggage proved 
it. I had reduced the Christmas tree that I first brought out 
to a pocket-torch with a fourteen-day battery in it, and a pair 
of insulated wire-cutters strong enough to cut German wire 
(the ordinary British army issue would only cut British wire). 
Instead of a haversack I had a pack like the ones the men 
carried, but lighter and waterproof. I had lost my revolver 
when I was wounded and had not bought another; rifle and 
bayonet could always be got from the battalion. (Not carrying 
rifle and bayonet made officers conspicuous in an attack; 
in most divisions now they carried them, and also wore 
trousers rolled down over their puttees like the men, because 
the Germans had been taught to recognize them by their 
thin knees.) Instead of the heavy blankets that I had brought 
out before I now had an eiderdown sleeping-bag in an oiled- 
silk cover. I also had Shakespeare and a Bible, both printed 
on india-paper, a Catullus and a Lucretius in Latin, and two 
light weight, folding, canvas arm-chairs, one as a present for 


Yates the quartermaster, the other for myself. I was wearing 
a very thick whipcord tunic with a neat patch above the 
second button and another between the shoulders; it was my 
only salvage from the last time out except the pair of ski-ing 
boots which I was wearing again, reasonably waterproof— 
my breeches had been cut off me in hospital. 

There was a draft of ten young officers with me. As 
Captain Charles Edmonds notes in his book A Subaltern’s 
IFar, young officers at this time were expected to be 
‘roistering blades with wine and women.’ These ten did 
their best. Three of them got venereal disease at Rouen. 
In each case, I believe, it was the first time that they had 
been with women. They were strictly brought-up Welsh 
boys of the professional classes and knew nothing about 
prophylactics. One of them was sharing a hut with me. He 
came in very late and very drunk one night from the 
Drapeau Blanc, a well-known blue-lamp brothel, woke me 
up and began telling me what a wonderfril time he had had. 
‘He had never known before,’ he said, ‘what a wonderful thing 
sex was.’ I said irritably and in some disgust: ‘The Drapeau 
Blanc} Then I hope to God you washed yourself.’ He was 
very Welsh and on his dignity. ‘What do you mean, captain.? 
I did wass my fa-ace and ha-ands.’ There were no restraints 
in France as in England; these boys had money to spend and 
knew that they had a good chance of being killed within a 
few weeks anyhow. They did not want to die virginal. So 
venereal hospitals at the base were always crowded. (The 
troops took a lewd delight in exaggerating the proportion 
of army chaplains to combatant officers treated there.) The 
Drapeau Blanc saved the life of scores of them by in- 
capacitating them for future trench service. 

The instructors at the Bull Ring were full.of bullet-and- 

Ch. XXI 



bayonet enthusiasm which they tried to pass on to the 
drafts. The drafts were now, for the most part, either 
forcibly enlisted men or wounded men returning, and at 
this dead season of the year it was difficult for anyone to feel 
enthusiastic on arrival in France. The training principle 
had recently been revised. Infantry Trainings 1914? had laid 
it down politely that the soldier’s ultimate aim was to put 
out of action or render ineffective the armed forces of the 
enemy. This statement was now not considered direct 
enough for a war of attrition. Troops were taught instead 
that their duty was to hate the Germans and kill as many 
of them as possible. In bayonet-practice the men were 
ordered to make horrible grimaces and utter blood-curdling 
yells as they charged. The bayonet-fighting instructors’ 
faces were permanently set in a ghastly grin. ‘Hurt him, 
nowl In at his bellyl Tear his guts out!’ they would scream 
as the men charged the dummies. ‘Now that upper swing at 
his privates with the butt. Ruin his chances for life. No 
more little Fritzes! . . . Naaaohl Anyone would think that 
you loved the bloody swine, patting and stroking ’em like 
that. Bite him, i say! Stick your teeth in him and 
WORRY him! Eat his heart out!’ 

Once more I was glad to be sent up to the trenches. 


I WAS posted to the Second Battalion again. I found it near 
Bouchavesnes on the Somme. It was a very different Second 
Battalion. No riding-school, no battalion-mess, no Quetta 
manners. I was more warmly welcomed this time; my 
suspected spying activities were forgotten. But the day 
before I arrived the colonel had been wounded while out in 
front of the battalion inspecting the wire. He had been shot 
in the thigh by one of the ‘rotten crowd’ of his letter, who 
mistook him for a German and fired without challenging; 
he has been in and out of nursing homes ever since. Doctor 
Dunn asked me with kindly disapproval what I meant by 
coming back so soon. I said that I could not stand England 
any longer. He told the acting C.O. that I was, in his 
opinion, unfit for trench service, so I was put in command of 
the headquarter company. I went to live with the transport 
back at Prises, where the Somme made a bend. My company 
consisted of regimental clerks, cooks, tailors, shoemakers, 
pioneers, transport men, and so on, who in an emergency 
could become riflemen and used as a combatant force. 
We were m dug-outs close to the river, which was frozen 
completely over except for a narrow stretch of fast water in 
the middle. I had never been so cold in my life; it made me 
shudder to think what the trenches must be like. I used to 
go up to them every night with the rations, the quartermaster 
being sick; it was about a twelve-mile walk there and back. 
The general commanding the Thirty-third Division had 
teetotal convictions on behalf of his men and stopped their 
issue of rum except for emergencies; the immediate result 
was a much heavier sick-list than the battalion had ever had. 
The men had always looked forward to their tot of rum at 



the’^dawn stand-to as the one bright moment of the twenty- 
four hours. When this was denied them, their resistance 
weakened. I took the rations up through Cl^ry, which had 
been a wattle and daub village of some hundreds of in- 
habitants. The highest part of it now standing was a short 
course of brick wall about three feet high; the rest was 
enormous overlapping shell-craters. A broken-down steam- 
roller by the roadside had the name of the village chalked on 
it as a guide to travellers. We often lost a horse or two at 
Cl^ry, which the Germans continued to shell from habit. 

Our reserve billets for these Bouchavesnes trenches were 
at Suzanne. They were not really billets, but dug-outs and 
shelters. Suzanne was also in ruins. The winter was the 
hardest since 1894—5'. The men played inter-company 
football matches on the river, which was now frozen two feet 
thick. I remember a meal here in a shelter-billet; stew and 
tinned tomato on metal plates. Though the food came in 
hot from the kitchen next door, before we had finished it 
there was ice on the edge of the plate. In all this area there 
were no French civilians, no iinshelled houses, no signs of 
cultivation. The only living creatures that I saw except 
soldiers and horses and mules were a few moorhen and duck 
in the narrow unfrozen part of the river. There was a 
shortage of fodder for the horses, many of which were sick; 
the ration was down to three pounds a day, and they had 
only open standings. I have kept few records of this time, 
but the memory of its misery survives. 

Then I had bad toothache, and there was nothing for it but 
to take a horse and ride twenty miles to the nearest army 
dental station. The dentist who attended me was under the 
weather like everyone else. He would do nothing at first 
but grumble what a fool he had been to offer his services to 

298 GOOD-BYE TO ALL THAT Ch. xxii 

his country at such a low salary. ‘When I think/ he said, 
‘of the terrible destruction to the nation’s teeth that is being 
done by unqualified men at home, and the huge fees that they 
are exacting for their wicked work, it makes me boil with 
rage.’ There followed further complaints against the way 
he was treated and the unwillingness of the Royal Army 
Medical Corps to give dentists any promotion beyond 
lieutenant’s rank. Later he began work on my tooth. ‘An 
abscess,’ he said, ‘no good tinkering about with this; must 
pull it out.’ So he yanked at it irritably and the tooth broke 
off. He tried again; there was very little purchase and it 
broke off again. He damned the ineffective type of forceps 
that the Government supplied. After about half an hour he 
got the tooth out in sections. I rode home with lacerated 

I was appointed a member of a field general court-martial 
on an Irish sergeant charged with ‘shamefully casting 
away his arms in the presence of the enemy.’ I had heard 
about the case unofficially. He had been maddened by an 
intense bombardment, thrown down his rifle, and run with 
the rest of his platoon. An army order, secret and con- 
fidential, had recently instructed me that, in the case of men 
tried for their life on other charges, sentence might be 
mitigated if conduct in the field had been exemplary; but 
cowardice was only punishable with death and no medical 
excuses could be accepted. But I knew that there was nothing 
between sentencing the man to death and refusing to take 
part in the proceedings. If I chose the second course I would 
be court-martialled myself, and a reconstituted court would 
bring in the death verffict anyhow. Yet I would not sentence 
a man to death for an offence which I might have committed 
myself in the same circumstances. I was in a dilemma. I met 


the situation by evading it. There was one other officer in 
the battalion with the year’s service, as a captain, which 
entitled him to sit on a field general court-martial. I found 
him willing to take my place. He was hard-boiled and glad 
of a trip to Amiens, and I took over his duties for him. 

Executions were frequent in France. My first direct 
experience of official lying was when I was at the base at 
Havre in May 1915 and read the back-files of army orders 
in the officers’ mess at the rest-camp. There were something 
like twenty reports of men shot for cowardice or desertion; 
yet not a week later the responsible Minister in the House of 
Commons, answering a question from a pacifist member, 
had denied that sentence of death for a military offence had 
been carried out in France on any member of His Majesty’s 
forces. . 

The acting commanding-officer was sick and irritable; 
he felt the strain badly and took a lot of whisky. One spell 
he was too sick to be in the trenches, and came down to 
Frises, where he shared a dug-out with Yates the quarter- 
master and myself. I was sitting in my arm-chair reading 
the Bible and came on the text: ‘The bed is too narrow to lie 
down therein and the coverlet too small to wrap myself 
therewith.’ ‘I say, James,’ I said, ‘that’s pretty appropriate 
for this place.’ He raised himself on an elbow, genuinely 
furious. ‘Look here, von Runicke,’ he said, ‘I am not a 
religious man. I’ve cracked a good many of the command- 
ments since I’ve been in France; but while I am in command 
here I refuse to hear you or anyone bloody else blaspheme 
Holy Writ.’ I liked James a lot. I had met him first on the 
day I arrived at Wrexham to join the regiment. He was 
just back from Canada and hilariously throwing chairs about 
in the junior ante-room of the mess. He had been driving 


a plough through virgin soil, he told us, and reciting Kipling 
to the prairie-dogs. His favourite piece was (I may be 

Are ye there, are ye there, are ye there? 

Four points on a ninety-mile square. 

With a helio winking like fun in the sun, 

Are ye there, are ye there, are ye there? 

He had been with the Special Reserve a year or two before 
he emigrated. He cared for nobody, was most courageous, 
inclined to be sentimental, and probably saw longer service 
with the Second Battalion in the war than any officer except 

A day or two later, because he was still sick and I was the 
senior officer of the battalion, I attended the Commanding 
Officers’ Conference at brigade headquarters. Opposite our 
trenches was a German salient and the brigadier wanted to 
‘bite it off’ as a proof of the offensive spirit of his command. 
Trench soldiers could never understand the Staffs desire to 
bite off an enemy salient. It was not a desirable thing to 
be exposed to fire from both flanks ; if the Germans were in 
a salient, our obvious duty was to keep them there as long 
as they could be persuaded to stay. We concluded that it 
was the passion for straight lines for which headquarters 
were well known, and that it had no strategic or tactical 
significance. The attack had been twice proposed and twice 
cancelled because of the weather. This was towards the 
end of February, in the thaw. I have a field-message 
referring to it, dated the aist: 

Ch. xxn 





1 Form 4 



AA 202 







B. Echelon 



























Even this promise of special rum could not encourage the 
battalion. Every one agreed that the attack was unneoissary, 
foolish, and impossible. The company commanders assured 
me that to cross the three hundred yards of No Man’s Land, 
which because of constant shelling and the thaw was a 
morass of mud more than knee-deep, would take even lightly- 
armed troops four or five minutes. It would be impossible 
for anyone to reach the German lines while there was a single 
section of Germans with rifles to defend them. The general, 
when I arrived, inquired in a fatherly way how old I was, 
and whether I was not proud to be attending a Commanding 
Ofiicers’ Conference at the age of twenty-one. I said that 
I had not examined my feelings, but that Twas an old enough 
soldier to realize the impossiblity of the attack. The colonel 
of the Cameronians, who were also to be engaged, took the 
same line. So the attack was finally called off. That night 
I went up with rations as usual; the battalion was much 
relieved to hear the decision. 

We had been heavily shelled on the way up, and while 

302 good-bye TO ALL THAT Ch. xxn 

I was at battalion headquarters having a drink a message 
came to say that D Company limber had been hit by a shell. 
As I went to inspect the damage I passed the chaplain, who 
had come up with me from Frises bend, and a group of three 
or four men. He was gabbling the burial service over a 
dead man lying on the ground covered with a waterproof 
sheet. It was a suicide case. The misery of the weather 
and the knowledge of the impending attack had been too 
much for him. This was the last dead man I was to see in 
France, and like the first, a suicide. 

I found that the limber, which contained petrol tins of 
water for the company, had had a direct hit. There was no 
sign of the horses; they were highly prized horses, having 
won a prize at a divisional horse-show some months back 
for the best-matched pair of the division. So the transport 
sergeant and I sent the transport back and went looking for 
the horses in the dark. We stumbled through miles of morass 
that night but could not find them or get any news of them. 
We used to boast that our transport animals were the best 
in France. Our transport men were famous horse-thieves, 
and no less than eighteen of our stable had been stolen from 
other units at one time or another, for their good looks. 
There were even two which we had ‘borrowed’ from the 
Scots Greys. The horse I rode to the dentist came from the 
French police; its only fault was that it was the left-hand 
horse of the police squadron, and so had a tendency to pull 
to the wrong side of the road. We had never lost a horse 
to any other battalion, so naturally Sergeant Meredith and 
I, who had started out with the rations at about four o’clock 
in the afternoon, kept on with the search until long after mid- 
n^ht. When we reached Frises at about three o’clock in the 
morning I was completely exhausted. I collapsed on my bunk. 


The next day it was found that I had bronchitis and I went 
back in an ambulance to Rouen, once more to No. 8 Red 
Cross hospital. The major of the R.A.M,C. recognized me 
and said: ‘What on earth arejyca doing out in France, young 
man? If I find you in my hospital again with those lun^ of 
yours ril have you court-martialled.’ 

The quartermaster wrote to me there that the horses had 
been found shortly after I had gone; they were imhurt 
except for grazes on their bellies and were in the possession 
of the machine-gun company of the Fourth Division; the 
machine-gunners were found disguising them with stain 
and trying to remove the regimental marks. 

At Rouen I was asked to say where in England I would 
like to go to hospital. I said, at random, ‘Oxford.’ 


So I was sent to Oxford, to Somerville College, which, like 
the Examination Schools, had been converted into a hospital. 
It occurred to me here that I was probably through with 
the war, for it could not last long now. I both liked and 
disliked the idea. I disliked being away from the regiment 
in France and I liked to think that I would probably be alive 
when the war ended. As soon as I was passed fit Siegfried 
had got boarded toe and tried to follow me to the Second 
Battalion. He was disappointed to find me gone. I felt 
I had somehow let him down. But he wrote that he 
was unspeakably relieved to know that I was back at 

I liked Oxford and wanted to stay there. I applied, on 
the strength of a chit from the Bull Ring commandant at 
Havre, for an instructional job in one of the Officer-Cadet 
Battalions quartered in the men’s colleges. I was posted to 
the Wadham Company of No. 4 Battalion. These battalions 
had not been formed long; they had grown out of instruc- 
tional schools for young officers. The cadet course was only 
three months (later increased to four), but it was a severe 
one and particularly intended to train platoon commanders 
in the handling of the platoon as an independent unit. About 
two-thirds of the cadets were men recommended for com- 
missions by colonels in France, the remainder were public- 
school boys from the officers’ training corps. Much of the 
training was drill and musketry, but the important part was 
tactical exercises with limited objectives. We used the army 
textbook S.S. 143, or * Instructions for the training of platoons 
for offensive action, 1917,’ perhaps the most important War 
Office publication issued during the war. The author is 


Ch. xsiii 


said to have been General Solly-Flood, who wrote it after 
a visit to a French army school. From 1916 on the largest 
unit possible to control in sustained action was the platoon. 
Infantry training had hitherto treated the company as the 
chief tactical unit. 

Though the quality of the officers had deteriorated from 
the regimental point of view (in brief, few of the new officers 
were now gentlemen), their deficiency in manners was 
amply compensated for by their greater efficiency in action. 
The cadet-battalion system, in the next two years, saved the 
army in France from becoming a mere rabble. We failed 
about a sixth of the candidates for commissions; the failures 
were sometimes public-school boys without the necessary 
toughness, but usually men who had been recommended, 
from France, on compassionate grounds — rather stupid 
platoon sergeants and machine-gun corporals who had been 
out too long and were thought to need a rest. Our final 
selection of the right men to be officers was made by watching 
them play games, principally rugger and soccer. The ones 
who played rough but not dirty and had quick reactions 
were the men we wanted. We spent most of our spare time 
playing games with them. I had a platoon of New Zealanders, 
Canadians, South Africans, two men from the Fiji Island 
contingent, an English farm-labourer, a Welsh miner and 
two or three public-school boys. They were a good lot and 
most of them were killed later on in the war. The New 
Zealanders went in for rowing; the record time for the river 
at Oxford was made by a New Zealand eight that year. I 
found the work too much for my lungs, for which the climate 
of Oxford was unsuitable. I kept myself going for two 
months on a strychnine tonic and then collapsed again. I 
fainted and fell downstairs one evening in the dark, cutting 

3o6 good-bye to ALL THAT CLxxm 

my head open; I was taken back to Somerville. I had kept 
going as long as I could. 

I had liked Wadham, where I was a member of the senior 
common-room and had access to the famous brown sherry 
of the college; it is specially mentioned in a Latin grace 
among the blessings vouchsafed to the fellows by their 
Creator. My commanding officer, Colonel Stenning, in 
better times University Professor of Hebrew, was a fellow 
of the college. The social system at Oxford was dislocated. 
The St. John’s don destined to be my moral tutor when I 
came up was a corporal in the General Reserve; he wore grey 
uniform, drilled in the parks, and saluted me whenever we 
met. A college scout had a commission and was instructing 
in the other cadet battalion. There were not, I suppose, more 
than a hundred and fifty undergraduates at Oxford at this 
time; these were Rhodes scholars, Indians, and men who were 
unfit. I saw a good deal of Aldous Huxley, Wilfred Childe, 
and Thomas Earp, who were running an undergraduates’ 
literary paper of necessarily limited circulation called The 
Palatine Review, to which I contributed. Earp had set him- 
self the task of keeping the Oxford tradition alive through 
the dead years; he was president and sole member, he said, 
of some seventeen undergraduate social and literary societies. 
In 1919 he was still in residence, and handed over the 
minute-books to the returning university. Most of the 
societies were then reformed. 

I enjoyed being at Somerville. It was warm weather and 
the discipline of the hospital was easy. We used to lounge 
about in the grounds in our pyjamas and dressing-gowns, and 
even walk out into St. Giles’ and down the Cornmarket 
(also in pyjamas and dressing-gowns) for a morning cup of 
coflFee at the Cadena. And there was a V.A.D. probationer 


with whom I fell in love, I did not tell her so at the time. 
This was the first time that I had fallen in love with a woman, 
and I had difficulty in adjusting myself to the experience. 
I used to meet her when I visited a friend in another ward, 
but we had little talk together. I wrote to her after leaving 
hospital. When I found that she was engaged to a subaltern 
in France I stopped writing, I had seen what it felt like to 
be in France and have somebody else playing about with one’s 
girl. Yet by the way she wrote reproving me for not writing 
she may well have been as fond of me as she was of him, I 
did not press the point. There was the end of it, almost 
before it started. 

While I was with the cadet battalion I used to go out 
to tea nearly every Sunday to Garsington. Siegfried’s 
friends, Philip and Lady Ottoline Morrell, lived at the manor 
house there. The Morrells were pacifists and it was here 
that I first heard that there was another side to the question 
of war guilt. Clive Bell was working on the manor farm; 
he was a conscientious objector, and had been permitted to 
do this, as work of national importance, instead of going 
into the army. Aldous Huxley, Lytton Strachey and the 
Hon. Bertrand Russell were frequent visitors. Aldous was 
unfit, otherwise he would certainly have been in the army 
like Osbert and Sacheverell Sitwell, Herbert Read, Siegfried, 
Wilfred Owen, myself and most other young writers of the 
time, noneof whom now believed in the war. Bertrand Russell, 
who was beyond the age of liability for military service but 
an ardent pacifist (a rare combination), turned sharply on 
me one afternoon and said: ‘Tell me, if a company of men 
of your regiment were brought along to break a strike of 
munition makers and the munition makers refused to submit, 
would you order the men to fire?’ I said: ‘Yes, if every- 

3o 8 GOOD-BYE TO ALL THAT Ch. xxiii 

thing else failed. It would be no worse than shooting 
Germans, really.’ He was surprised and asked: ‘Would 
your men obey you?’ ‘Of course they would,’ I said; 
‘they loathe munition makers and would be only too glad 
of a chance to shoot a few. They think that they’re all 
skrim-shankers.’ ‘But they realize that the war’s all wicked 
nonsense?’ ‘Yes, as well as I do.’ He could not understand 
my attitude. 

Lytton Strachey was unfit, but instead of allowing himself 
to be rejected by the doctors he preferred to appear before 
a military tribunal as a conscientious objector. He told us of 
the extraordinary impression that was caused by an air- 
cushion which he inflated during the proceedings as a 
protest against the hardness of the benches. Asked by the 
chairman the usual question: ‘I understand, Mr. Strachey, 
that you have a conscientious objection to war?’ he replied 
(in his curious falsetto voice), ‘Oh no, not at all, only to 
this war.’ Better than this was his reply to the chairman’s 
other stock question, which had previously never failed to 
embarrass the claimant: ‘Tell me, Mr. Strachey, what would 
you do if you saw a German soldier trying to violate your 
sister?’ With an air of noble virtue: ‘I would try to get 
between them.’ 

In 1916 I met more well-known writers than ever before 
or since. There were two unsuccessful meetings. George 
Moore had just written The Brook Kerith and my neuras- 
thenic twitchings interrupted the calm, easy flow of his 
conversational periods. He told me irritably not to fidget; 
in return I taunted him with having introduced cactus into 
the Holy Land some fifteen centuries before the discovery 
of America, its land of origin. At the Reform Club, H. G. 
Wells, who was Mr. Britling in those days and full of 




military optimism, talked without listening. He had just 
been taken for a ‘Cook’s Tour’ to France and had been 
shown the usual sights that royalty, prominent men of letters, 
and influential neutrals were shown by staff-conductors. 
He described his experiences at length and seemed unaware 
that I and the friend who was with me had also seen the 
sights. But I liked Arnold Bennett for his kindly un- 
pretentiousness. And I liked Augustine Birrell. I happened 
to correct him when he said that the Apocrypha was not 
read in the church services; and again when he said that 
Elihu the Jebusite was one of Job’s comforters. He tried 
to over-ride me in both points, but I called for a Bible and 
proved them. He said, glowering very kindly at me: ‘I will 
say to you what Thomas Carlyle once said to a young man 
who caught him out in a misquotation, “Young man, you 
are heading straight for the pit of Hell!” ’ 

And who else? John Galsworthy; or was my first meeting 
with him a year or two later? He was editor of a magazine 
called Reveille, published under Government auspices (and 
was treated very ungenerously), the proceeds of which were 
to go to a disabled-soldier fund. I contributed. When I met 
him he asked me technical questions about soldier-slang - 
he was writing a war-play and wanted it accmate. He 
seemed a humble man and except for these questions listened 
without talking. This is, apparently, his usual practice; 
which explains why he is a better writer if a less forceful 
propagandist than Wells. . . . And Ivor Novello, in 1918. 
Then aged about twenty and already world famous as the 
author and composer of the patriotic song: 

Keep the home fires burning 

While the hearts are yearning. . . . 

310 GOOD-BYE TO ALL THAT Ch. xxiii 

There was some talk of his setting a song of mine. I found 
hi'm^ wearing a silk dressing-gown, in a setting of incense, 
cocktails, many cushions, and a Tree or two. I felt uncom- 
fortably military. I removed my spurs (I was a temporary 
field-officer at the time) out of courtesy to the pouffes. He 
was in the Royal Naval Air Service, but his genius was 
officially recognized and he was able to keep the home fires 
burning until the boys came home. 

By this time the War Office had stopped the privilege 
that officers had enjoyed, after coming out of hospital, of 
going to their own homes for convalescence. It was found 
that many of them took no trouble to get well quickly and 
return to duty; they kept late nights, drank, and overtaxed 
their strength. So when I was somewhat recovered I was 
sent to a convalescent home for officers in the Isle of Wight. 
It was Osborne Palace; my bedroom had once been the 
royal night-nursery of King Edward VII and his brothers 
and sisters. This was the strawberry season and fine 
weather; the patients were able to take all Queen Victoria’s 
favourite walks through the woods and along the quiet sea- 
shore, play billiards in the royal billiard-room, sing bawdy 
songs in the royal music-room, drink the Prince Consort’s 
favourite Rhine wines among his Winterhalters, play golf- 
crocquet and go down to Cowes when in need of adventure. 
We were made honorary members of the Royal Yacht 
Squadron. This is ano^’her of the caricature scenes of my 
life; sitting in a leather chair in the smoking-room of what 
had been and is now again the most exclusive club in the 
world, drinking gin and ginger, and sweeping the Solent 
with a powerful telescope. 

I made friends with the French Benedictine Fathers who 
lived near by; they had been driven from Solesmes in France 


by the anti-clerical laws of 1 906, and had built themselves a 
new abbey at Quart. The abbey had a special commission 
from the Vatican to collect and edit ancient church music. 
Hearing the fathers at their plain-song made us for the 
moment forget the war completely. Many of them were 
ex-army officers who had, I was told, turned to religion 
after the ardours of their campaigns or after disappointments 
in love. They were greatly interested in the war, which they 
saw as a dispensation of God for restoring France to Catholic- 
ism. They told me that the freemason element in the French 
army had been discredited and that the present Supreme 
Command was predominantly Catholic -an augury, they 
said, of Allied victory. The guest-master showed me the 
library of twenty thousand volumes, hundreds of them black- 
letter. The librarian was an old monk from Bdthune and 
was interested to hear from me an accurate account of the 
damage to his quarter of the town. The guest-master asked 
me whether there were any books that I would like to read 
in the library. He said that there were all kinds there - 
history, botany, music, architecture, engineering, almost 
every other lay subject. I asked him whether there was a 
poetry section. He smiled kindly and said, no, poetry was 
not regarded as improving. 

The Father Superior asked me whether I was a hon 
catholique. I replied no, I did not belong to the true religion. 
To spare him a confession of agnosticism I added that my 
parents were Protestants. He said: ‘But if ours is the true 
religion why do you not become a Catholic?’ He asked the 
question in such a simple way that I felt ashamed. But I had 
to put him off somehow, so I said: ‘Reverend father, we have 
a proverb in England never to swap horses while crossing 
a stream. I am still in the war, you know.’ I offered: ‘Peut- 

^12 GOOjD-BYE to AXfX# THAT Cli. jcxiii 

gtre apres la guerre.’ This was a joke with myself; it was 
the stock answer that the Pas de Calais girls were ordered 
by their priests to give to Allied soldiers who asked for a 
‘Promenade, mademoiselle.?’ It was seldom given, I was 
told, except for the purpose of bargaining. All the same, I 
half-envied the Fathers their abbey on the hill, finished with 
wars and love affairs. I liked their kindness and seriousness; 
the clean whitewashed cells and the meals eaten in silence 
at the long oaken tables, while a novice read the Lives of the 
Saints\ the food, mostly cereals, vegetables and fruit, was the 
best I had tasted for years -I was tired of ration beef, 
ration jam, ration bread and cheese. At Quarr, Catholicism 
ceased to be repulsive to me. 

Osborne was gloomy. Many of the patients there were 
neurasthenic and should have been in a special neurasthenic 
hospital. A. A. Milne was there, as a subaltern in the Royal 
Warwickshire Regiment, and in the least humorous vein. 
Vernon Bartlett, of the Hampshire Regiment, who had 
introduced me to the Quarr Fathers, decided with me that 
something must be started. So we founded the ‘Royal 
Albert Society’; its aim was to revive interest in the life and 
times of the Prince Consort. I was president and my regalia 
consisted of a Scottish dirk, Hessian boots, and a pair of side- 
whiskers. Official business was not allowed to proceed until 
the announcement had been duly made that the whiskers 
were on the table. Membership was open only to those who 
professed themselves students of the life and works of the 
Prince Consort, those who had been born in the province 
of Alberta in Canada, those who had resided for six months 
or upwards by the banks of the Albert Nyanza, those who 
held the Albert Medal for saving life, or those who were 
linked with the Prince Consort’s memory in any other 


signal way. The members were expected to report at each 
meeting reminiscences that they had collected from old 
palace-servants and Osborne cottagers, throwing light on 
the human side of the Consort’s life. We had about fifteen 
members and ate strawberries. On one occasion about a 
dozen officers came in to join the society; they professed 
to have the necessary qualifications. One said that he was 
the grandson of the man who had built the Albert Memorial; 
one had worked at the Albert Docks; and one actually did 
possess the Albert Medal for saving life; the others were 
mere students. They submitted quietly at first to the 
ceremonies and business, but it was soon apparent that they 
were not serious and had come to break up the society; they 
were, in fact, most of them drunk. They began giving 
indecent accounts of the private life of the Prince Consort, 
alleging that they could substantiate them with documentary 
evidence. Bartlett and I got worried; it was not that sort of 
society. So, as president, I rose and told in an improved 
version the story which had won the 1914 All-England Inter- 
regimental Competition at Aldershot for the worst story of 
the year. I linked it up with the Prince Consort by saying 
that he had been told it by John Brown, the Balmoral 
ghillie, in whose pawky humour Queen Victoria used to 
find such delight, and that it had prevented him firom 
sleeping for three days and nights, and was a contributory 
cause of his premature death. The story had the intended 
effect; the interruptors threw up their hands in surrender 
and walked out. It struck me suddenly how far I had come 
since my first years at Charterhouse seven years back, and 
what a pity it was that I had not used the same technique 

On the beach one day Bartlett and I saw an old ship’s 


fender; the knotted ropes at the top had frayed into some- 
thing that looked like hair, so Bartlett said to me: ‘Poor 
fellow, I knew him well. He was in my platoon in the 
Hampshire Regiment and jumped overboard from the 
hospital ship.’ A little farther along we found an old pair 
of trousers half in the water, and a coat, and then some socks 
and a boot. So we dressed up Bartlett’s old comrade, draped 
sea-weed over him where necessary, and walked on. Soon 
after we met a coastguard and turned back with him. We 
said: ‘There’s a dead man on the beach.’ He stopped a few 
yards off and said, holding his nose: ‘Pooh, don’t he ’alf 
stink!’ We turned again, leaving him with the dead, and 
the next day read in the Isle of Wight paper of a hoax that 
‘certain convalescent officers at Osborne’ had played on the 
coroner. Bartlett and I were nonsensical, and changed the 
labels of all the pictures in the galleries. Anything to make 
people laugh. But it was hard work. 


I USED to hear from Siegfried regularly. He had written 
in March from the Second Battalion asking me to pull 
myself together and send him a letter because he was horribly 
low in spirits. He complained that he had not been made 
at all welcome. A Special Reserve officer who had trans- 
ferred to the Second Battalion and was an acting-captain 
had gone so far as to call him a bloody wart and allude to the 
bloody First Battalion. He had swallowed the insult, but 
was trying to get transferred to the First Battalion. The 
Second was resting until the end of the month about two 
miles from Morlancourt (where we had been together in 
the previous March), surrounded by billows of mud slopes 
and muddy woods and aerodromes and fine new railroads, 
where he used to lollop around on the black mare of an 
afternoon watching the shells bursting away by the citadel. 
The black mare was a beautiful combative creature with a 
homicidal kink, only ridden by Siegfried. David Thomas 
and I once watched him breaking her in. His patience was 
wonderful. He would put the mare at a jump and she 
would sulk; and he would not force her but turn her around 
and then lead her back to it. Time after time she refused, 
but could not provoke his ill-temper or make him give up 
his intention. Finally she took the jump in mere boredom. 
It was a six-footer, and she could manage higher than that. 
He was in C Company now, he wrote, with a half-witted 
platoon awaiting his orders to do or die, and a beast of a 
stiff arm where Dr. Dunn had inoculated him, sticking his 
needle in and saying: ‘Toughest skin of the lot, but you’re a 
tough character, I know.’ Siegfried protested that he was 
not so tough as Dunn thought. He was hoping that the 


3i 6 CgOD-BYE TO ALL THAT Ch. xxit 

battalion would get into some sort of show soon; it would 
be a relief after all these weeks of irritation and discomfort 
and disappointment. (That was a feeling that one usually 
had in the Second Battalion.) He supposed that his Old 
Huntsman would not be published until the autumn. He had 
seen the Nation that week, and commented how jolly it was 
for him and me to appear as a military duet singing to a 
pacifist organ. ‘You and me, the poets who mean to work 
together some day and scandalize the jolly old Gosse’s and 
Strachey’s.’ (Re-reading this letter now I am reminded that 
the occasion of the final end of our correspondence ten years 
later was my failure to observe the proper literary punctilios 
towards the late Sir Edmund Gosse, c.b. And, by the way, 
when the Old Huntsman appeared. Sir Edmund severely 
criticized some lines of an allegorical poem in it: 

, . . Rapture and pale Enchantment and Romance 
And many a slender sickly lord who’d filled 
My soul long since with lutanies of sin 
Went home because he could not stand the din. 

This, he considered, might be read as a libel on the British 
House of Lords. The peerage, he said, had proved itself 
splendidly heroic in the war.) 

Siegfried had his wish; he was in heavy fighting with the 
battalion in the Hindenburg Line soon after. His platoon 
was then lent as support to the Cameronians, and when, in 
a counter-attack, the Cameronians were driven out of some 
trenches that they had won, Siegfried, with a bombing party 
of six men, regained them. He was shot through the throat 
but continued bombing until he collapsed. The Cameronians 
rallied and returned, and Siegfried’s name was sent in for a 


Victoria Cross. Tiie recommendation was refused, however, 
on the groimd that the operations had not been successful; 
for the Cameronians were later driven out again by a bombing 
party under some German Siegfried. 

He was back in England and very ill. He told me that 
often when he went out he saw corpses lying about on 
the pavement. He had written from hospital, in April, how 
bloody it was about the Second Battalion. Yates had sent 
him a note saying that four officers were killed and seven 
wounded in the show at Fontaine-les-Croiselles, the same 
place that he had been at, and it had been a ‘perfectly bloody 
battle.’ But there had been an advance of about half a mile, 
which seemed to Siegfried to be some consolation. Yet, in 
the very next sentence, he wrote how mad it made him to 
think of all the good men being slaughtered that summer, 
and all for nothing. The bloody politicians and ditto generals 
with their cursed incompetent blundering and callous ideas 
would go on until they were tired of it or had got all the 
kudos they wanted. He wished he could do something to 
protest against it, but even if he were to shoot the Premier or 
Sir Douglas Haig they could only shut him up in a mad- 
house like Richard Dadd of glorious memory. (I recognized 
the allusion. Dadd was an early nineteenth-century painter 
who made out a list of people who deserved to be killed. 
The first on the list was his father. He picked him up one 
day in Hyde Park and carried him on his shoulders for nearly 
half a mile before publicly drowning him in the Serpentine.) 
Siegfried went on to say that if he refused to go out again 
as a protest they would only accuse him of being afraid of 
shells. He asked me whether I thought we would be any 
better off by the end of that summer of carnage. We would 
never break their line. So far, in April, we had lost more 

3i8 good-bye to ALL THAT Ch. xxiv 

men than the Germans. The Canadians at Vimy had lost 
appallingly, yet the official communiquis were lying unblush- 
ingly about the casualties. Julian Dadd had come to see 
him in hospital and, like every one else, urged him not to 
go out again, to take a safe job at home - but he knew that 
it was only a beautiful dream, that he would be morally com- 
pelled to go on until he was killed. The thought of going 
back now was agony, just when he had got back into the light 
again - ‘Oh life, oh sun.’ His wound was nearly healed and 
he expected to be sent for three weeks to a convalescent 
home. He didn’t like the idea, but anywhere would be good 
enough if he could only be quiet and see no one, just watch 
the trees dressing up in green and feel the same himself. 
He was beastly weak and in a rotten state of nerves. The 
gramophone in the ward plagued him beyond endurance. 
The Old Huntsman had come out that spring after all, 
and, for a joke, he had sent a copy to Sir Douglas Haig. He 
couldn’t be stopped doing that anyhow. 

In June he had gone to visit the Morrells just before 
I left hospital at Oxford. He had no idea I was still there, 
but he wrote that perhaps it was as well that we didn’t meet, 
neither of us being at our best; at least one of us should be 
in a normal frame of mind when we were together. I had 
asked what he had been writing since he came home, and he 
answered that five poems of his had appeared in the Cambridge 
Magazine (one of the few pacifist journals published in 
England at the time, the offices of which were later raided 
by militarist flying-cadets). He said that none of them were 
much good except as digs at the complacent and perfectly 

people who thought the war ought to go on indefinitely 

until every one was killed except themselves. The pacifists 
were urging him to produce something red hot in the style 


of Barbusse’s Under Fire but he couldn’t do it; he had other 
things in his head, not -poems. I didn’t know what he meant 
by this but hoped that it was not a programme of assassina- 
tion. He wrote that the thought of all that happened in 
France nearly drove him dotty sometimes. He was down 
in Kent, where he could hear the guns thudding all the time 
across the Channel, on and on, until he didn’t know whether 
he wanted to rush back and die with the First Battalion or 
stay in England and do what he could to prevent the war 
going on. But both courses were hopeless. To go back 
and get killed would be only playing to the gallery — and 
the wrong gallery — and he could think of no way of doing 
any effective preventive work at home. His name had been 
sent in for an officer-cadet battalion appointment in England, 
which would keep him safe if he wanted to take it; but it 
seemed a dishonourable way out. Now at the end of July 
another letter came: it felt rather thin. I sat down to read it 
on the bench dedicated by Queen Victoria to John Brown 
(‘a truer and more faithful heart never burned within human 
breast’). When I opened the envelope a newspaper-cutting 
fluttered out; it was marked in ink: 'Bradford Pioneer, Friday, 
July 27, 1917.’ I read the wrong side first: 

The C.O.’s must be Set Free 
By Philip Frankford 

The conscientious objector is a brave man. He will 
be remembered as one of the few noble actors in this 
world drama when the impartial historian of the future 
sums up the history of this awful war. 

The C.O. is putting down militarism. He is fighting 


for freedom and liberty. He is making a mighty onslaught 
upon despotism. And, above all, he is preparing the way 
for the final abolition of war. 

But thanks to the lying, corrupt, and dastardly capitalist 
Press these facts are not known to the general public, 
who have been taught to look upon the conscientious 
objectors as skunks, cowards, and shirkers. 

Lately a renewed persecution of C.O.’s has taken 
place. In spite of the promises of ‘truthfur Cabinet 
Ministers, some C.O.’s have been sent to France, and 
there sentenced to death — a sentence afterwards trans- 
ferred to one of ‘crucifixion ’ or five or ten years’ hard 
labour. But even when allowed to remain in this country 
we have to chronicle the most scandalous treatment of 
these men - the salt of the earth. Saintly individuals like 
Clifford Allen, Scott Duckers, and thousands of others, 
no less splendid enthusiasts in the cause of anti-militarism, 
are in prison for no other reason than because they refuse 
to take life; and because they will not throw away their 
manhood by becoming slaves to the military machine. 
These men must be freed. The political ‘offenders’ of 
Ireland . . . 

Then I turned over and read: 

Finished with the War 
A Soldier's Declaration 

(This statement was made to his commanding officer 
by Second-Lieutenant S. L. Sassoon, Military Cross, 
recommended for d.s.o.. Third Battalion Royal Welch 


Fusiliers, as explaining his grounds for refusing to serve 
further in the army. He enlisted on 3rd August 1914, 
showed distinguished valour in France, was badly wounded 
and would have been kept on home service if he had 
stayed in the army.) 

I am making this statement as an act of wilful defiance 
of military authority, because I believe that the war is 
being deliberately prolonged by those who have the 
power to end it. 

I am a soldier, convinced that I am acting on behalf of 
soldiers. I believe that this war, upon which I entered 
as a war of defence and liberation, has now become a war 
of aggression and conquest. I believe that the purposes 
for which I and my fellow-soldiers entered upon this war 
should have been so clearly stated as to have made it 
impossible to change them, and that, had this been done, 
the objects which actuated us would now be attainable 
by negotiation. 

I have seen and endured the sxifFerings of the troops, 
and I can no longer be a party to prolong these sufferings 
for ends which I believe to be evil and unjust. 

I am not protesting against the conduct of the war, 
but against the political errors and insincerities for which 
the fighting men are being sacrificed. 

On behalf of those who are suffering now I make this 
protest aganst .the deception which is being practised on 
them; also I believe that I may help to destroy the callous 
complacence with which the majority of those at home 
regard the continuance of agonies which th^ do not 
share, and which they have not sufficient imagination to 

July 1917. 

S, Sassoon. 


This filled me with anxiety and unhappiness. I entirely 
agreed with Siegfried about the ‘political errors and in- 
sincerities’; I thought his action magnificently courageous. 
But there were more things to be considered than the 
strength of our case against the politicians. In the first 
place, he was not in a proper physical condition to suffer the 
penalty which he was inviting, which was to be court- 
martialled, cashiered and imprisoned. I found myself most 
bitter with the pacifists who had encouraged him to make 
this gesture. I felt that, not being soldiers, they could not 
understand what it would cost Siegfried emotionally. It 
was wicked that he should attempt to face the consequences 
of his letter on top of his Quadrangle and Fontaine-les- 
Croiselles experiences. I knew, too, that as a gesture it was 
inadequate. Nobody would follow his example either in 
England or in Germany. The war would obviously go on, 
and go on until one side or the other cracked. 

I decided to intervene. I applied to appear before the 
medical board that was sitting next day; and I asked the 
board to pass me fit for home service. I was not fit and 
they knew it, but I asked it as a favour. I had to get out of 
Osborne and attend to things. Next I wrote to the Hon* 
Evan Morgan, with whom I had canoed at Oxford a month 
or two previously. He was private secretary to one of the 
Coalition Ministers. I asked him to do everything he could 
to prevent republication of or comment on the letter in the 
newspapers, and to arrange that a suitable answer should be 
given to Mr. Lees Smith, then the leading pacifist M.P. 
and now Postmaster-General in the Labour Cabinet, 
when he brought up a question in the House about it. I 
explained to Morgan that I was on Siegfried’s side really, 
but that he should not be allowed to become a martyr in his 


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present physical condition. Next I -wrote to the Third 
Battalion. I knew that the colonel, a South Welshman, was 
narrowly patriotic, had never been to France, and could not 
possibly be expected to take a sympathetic view. But the 
senior major, an Irishman, was humane, so I wrote to him 
explaining the whole business, asking him to make the 
colonel see it in a reasonable light. I told him of Siegfried’s 
recent experiences in France. I suggested that he should 
be medically boarded and given indefinite leave. 

The next news I heard was from Siegfried, who wrote 
from the Exchange Hotel, Liverpool, that no doubt I was 
worrying about him. He had come up to Liverpool a day 
or two before and walked into the Third Battalion orderly 
room at Litherland feeling like nothing on earth, but 
probably looking fairly self-possessed. The senior-major was 
commanding, the colonel being away on holiday. (I was 
much relieved at this bit of luck.) The senior-major, who 
was nicer than anything I could imagine and made him feel 
an utter brute, had consulted the general commanding 
Mersey defences. And the general was consulting God ‘or 
someone like that.’ Meanwhile, he was staying at the hotel, 
having sworn not to run away to the Caucasus. He hoped, in 
time, to persuade them to be nasty about it, and said Aat he 
did not think that they realized that his performance would 
soon be given great publicity. He hated the whole business 
more than ever, and knew more than ever that he was right 
and would never repent of what he had done. He said that 
things were looking better in Germany, but that Lloyd 
George would probably say that it was a ‘plot.’ The politicians 
seemed to him incapable of behaving like human beings. 

The general consulted not God but the War Office, and 
the War Office was persuaded not to press the matter as a 


disciplinary case, but to give Siegfried a medical board. 
Morgan had done his part of the work well. The next task 
I set myself was to persuade Siegfried to take the medical 
board. I rejoined the battalion and met him at Liverpool. 
He looked very ill; he told me that he had just been down 
to the Formby links and thrown his Military Cross into the 
sea. We discussed the whole political situation; I told him 
that he was right enough in theory; but that every one was 
mad except ourselves and one or two others, and that it was 
hopeless to offer rightness of theory to the insane. I said 
that the only possible course for us to take was to keep on 
going out to France till we got killed. I now expected myself 
before long to go back for the fourth time. I reminded him 
of the regiment; what did he think that the First and Second 
Battalions would think of him? How could they be expected 
to understand his point of view? They would say that he 
was ratting, that he had cold feet, and was letting the 
regiment down by not acting like a gentleman. How would 
Old Joe, even, understand it (and he was the most under- 
standing man in the regiment)? To whom was his letter 
addressed? The army could, I repeated, only understand it 
as cowardice, or at the best as a lapse from good form. The 
civilians were more mad and hopeless than the army. He 
would not accept this view, but I made it plain that his letter 
had not been given and would not be given the publicity he 
intended; so, because he was ill, and knew it, he consented 
to appear before the medical board. 

So far, so good. The next thing was to rig the medical 
board. I applied for permission to give evidence as a 
friend of the patient. There were three doctors on the 
board — a regular R.A.M.C. colonel and major, and a 
captain, who was obviously a ‘duration of the war’ man. 


I had not been long in the room when I realized that the 
colonel was patriotic and uns3mapathetic, that the major was 
reasonable but ignorant, and that the captain was a nerve- 
specialist, right-minded, and my only hope. I had to go 
through the whole story again. I was most deferential to the 
colonel and major, but used the captain as an ally to break 
down their scruples. I had to appear in the r6le of a patriot 
distressed by the mental collapse of a brother-in-arms, a 
collapse directly due to his magnificent exploits in the 
trenches. I mentioned Siegfried’s ‘hallucinations’ in the 
matter of corpses in Piccadilly. The irony of having to 
argue to these mad old men that Siegfried was not sanel It 
was a betrayal of truth, but I was jesuitical. I was in nearly 
as bad a state of nerves as Siegfried myself and burst into 
tears three times in the course of my statement. Captain 
McDowall, whom I learned later to be a well-known 
morbid psychologist, played up well and the colonel was at 
last persuaded. As I went out he said to me: ‘Young man, 
you ought to be before this board yourself.’ I was most 
anxious that when Siegfried went into the board-room after 
me he should not undo my work by appearing too sane. 
But McDowall argued his seniors over. 

Siegfried was sent to a convalescent home for neuras- 
thenics at Craiglockhart, near Edinburgh. I was detailed as 
his escort. Siegfried and I both thought this a great joke, 
especially when I missed the train and he reported to 
‘Dottyville,’ as he called it, without me. At Craiglockhart, 
Siegfried was in the care of W. H. R. Rivers, whom we 
now met for the first time, though we already knew of him 
as a neurologist, ethnologist and psychologist. He was a 
Cambridge professor and had made a point of taking up a 
new department of research every few years and incorporating 


it in his comprehensive anthropological scheme. He died 
shortly after the war when he was on the point of contesting 
the London University parliamentary seat as an independent 
Labour candidate; intending to round off his scheme with 
a study of political psychology. He was busy at this time 
with morbid psychology. He had over a hundred neuras- 
thenic cases in his care and diagnosed their condition largely 
through a study of their dream-life; his posthumous book 
Conflict and Dream is a record of this work at Craiglockhart. 
It was not the first time that I had heard of Rivers in this 
capacity. Dick had come under his observation after the 
police-court episode. Rivers had treated him, and after a 
time pronounced him sufficiently cured to enlist in the army. 
Siegfried and Rivers soon became close friends. Siegfried 
was interested in Rivers’ diagnostic methods and Rivers in 
Siegfried’s poems. Before I returned from Edinburgh I 
felt happier. Siegfried began to write the terrifying sequence 
of poems that appeared next year as Counter-Attack. Another 
patient at the hospital was Wilfred Owen, who had had a 
bad time with the Manchester Regiment in France; and, 
further, it had preyed on his mind that he had been accused 
of cowardice by his commanding officer. He was in a very 
shaky condition. It was meeting Siegfried here that set 
him writing his war-poems. He was a quiet, round-faced 
little man. 


I WENT back to Liverpool. The president of the medical 
board had been right: I should not have been back on duty. 
The training at the camp was intensive and I was in command 
of a trained-men company and did not allow myself sufficient 
rest. I realized how bad my nerves were when one day, 
marching through the streets of Litherland on a battalion 
route-march, I saw three men wearing gas-masks standing 
by an open manhole in the road. They were bending over 
a dead man; his clothes were sodden and stinking, and his 
face and hands were yellow. Waste chemicals of the muni- 
tions factory had got into the sewage system and he had 
been gassed when he went down to inspect. The men in 
masks had been down to get him up. The company did 
not pause in its march so I had only a glimpse of the group; 
but it was so like France that I all but fainted. The band- 
music saved me. 

I was detailed as a member of a court-martial which sat 
in the camp. The accused was a civilian alleged to have 
enlisted under the Derby Scheme, but not to have presented 
himself when his class was called to the colours. He was a 
rabbit, a nasty-looking little man. I tried to feel sympathetic 
but found it difficult, even when he proved that he had 
never enlisted. His solicitor handed us a letter from a 
corporal serving in France, who explained that he had, while 
on leave, enlisted in the rabbit’s name because he had 
heard that the rabbit had been rabbiting with his wife. This 
rabbiting the rabbit denied; but he showed that the colour 
of the eyes recorded on the enlistment-form was blue while 
his own were brown, so it seemed that the story was true so 
far. But a further question arose: why had he not enlisted 



under the Military Service Act, if he was a fit man? He said 
that he was starred, having done responsible work in a 
munitions factory for the necessary length of time before 
the Military Service Act had become law. However, we had 
police evidence on the table to show that his protection 
certificates were forged, that he had not been working on 
munitions before the Military Service Act, and that therefore 
he was in the class of those ‘deemed to have enlisted,’ and 
so a deserter in any case. There was nothing for it but to 
sentence him to the prescribed two years’ imprisonment. 
He broke down and squealed rabbit-fashion, and said that 
he had conscientious objections against war. It made me 
feel contemptible, as part of the story. 

Large drafts were now constantly being sent off to the 
First, Second, Ninth, and Tenth Battalions in France, and 
to the Eighth Battalion in Mesopotamia. There were few 
absentees among the men warned for the drafts. But it was 
noticeable that they were always more cheerful about going 
in the spring and summer when there was heavy fighting on 
than in the winter months when things were quiet. (The 
regiment kept up its spirit even in the last year of the war. 
Attwater told me that big drafts sent off in the critical weeks 
of the spring of 1918, when the Germans had broken 
through the Fifth Army, went down to the station singing 
and cheering enthusiastically. He said that they might have 
been the reservists that he and I had seen assembling at 
Wjexham on 12th August 1914, to rejoin the Second 
Battalion just before it sailed for France.) The colonel 
always made the same speech to the draft. The day that 
I rejoined the battalion from the Isle of Wight I went via 
Liverpool Exchange Station and the electric railway to 
Litherland. Litherland station was crowded with troops. 

CL xsv 



I heard a familiar voice making a familiar speech; it was the 
colonel bidding Godspeed to a small draft of men who were 
rejoining the First Battalion. . going cheerfully like 
British soldiers to fight the common foe . . . some of you 
perhaps may fall. . . . Upholding the magnificent tra- 
ditions of the Royal Welch Fusiliers . . The draft 
cheered vigorously; rather too vigorously, I told myself. 
When he had finished I went over and greeted a few bid 
friends: 79 Davies, 33 Williams, and the Davies who was 
nicknamed ‘Dym Bacon,’ which was Welsh for ‘there isn’t 
any bacon.’ (He had won the nickname in his recruit days. 
He was the son of a Welsh farmer and accustomed to good 
food and so he complained about his first morning’s break- 
fast, shouting out to the orderly-sergeant: ‘Do you call this 
a bloody breakfast, man? Dym bacon, dym sausages, dym 
herrings, dym bloody anything. Nothing but bloody bread 
and jaaam.’) There was another well-remembered First 
Battalion man - d.c.m. and rosette, M^daille Militaire, 
Military Medal, no stripe. ‘Lost them again, sergeant?’ 
I asked. He grinned: ‘Easy come, easy go, sir.’ Then the 
train came in and I put out my hand with ‘Good luck!’ 
‘You’ll excuse us, sir,’ he said. The draft shouted with 
laughter and I saw why my hand had not been wrung, and 
also why the cheers had been so ironically vigorous. They 
were all in handcuffs. They had been detailed a fortnight 
before for a draft to Mesopotamia; but they wanted to go 
back to the First Battalion, so they overstayed their leave. 
The colonel, not imderstanding, put them into the guard- 
room to make sure of them for the next draft. So they were 
now going back in handcuffs under an escort of military 
police to the battalion of their choice. The colonel, as I have 
^cady said, had seen no active service himself; but the 


men bore him no ill-will for the handcuffs. He was a good- 
hearted man and took a personal interest in the camp kitchens, 
had built a cinema-hut within the camp, been reasonably 
mild in orderly room, and done his best not to drive returned 
soldiers too hard. 

I decided to leave Litherland somehow. I knew what the 
winter would be like with the mist coming up from the 
Mersey and hanging about the camp full of T.N.T. fumes. 
When I was there the winter before I used to sit in my hut 
and cough and cough until I was sick. The fumes tarnished 
all buttons and made our eyes smart. I considered going 
back to France but I knew this was absurd as yet. Since 
1916 the fear of gas had been an obsession; in any unusual 
smell that I met I smelt gas - even a sudden strong scent of 
flowers in a garden was enough to set me trembling. And 
I knew that the noise of heavy shelling would be too much 
for me now. The noise of a motor-tyre exploding behind me 
would send me flat on my face or running for cover. So I 
decided to go to Palestine, where gas was not known and 
shell-fire was said to be inconsiderable in comparison with 
France. Siegfried wrote from Craiglockhart in August: 
‘What do you think of the latest push? How splendid this 
attrition isl As Lord Crewe says: “We are not the least 
depressed.” ’ I matched this with a remark of Lord Carson’s: 
‘The necessary supply of heroes must be maintained at all 
costs.’ At my next medical board I asked to be passed in 
the category of Ba. This meant: ‘Fit for garrison service at 
home.’ I reckoned on being sent to the Third Garrison 
Battalion of the regiment, now imder canvas at Oswestry in 
Wales. From there, when I felt a bit better, I would get 
myself passed Bi, which meant: ‘Fit for garrison service 
abroad,’ and would, in due course, go to a garrison battalion 


of the regiment in Egypt. Once there it would be easy to 
get passed Ai and join the Twenty-fourth or Twenty-fifth 
(new-army) Battalion in Palestine. 

So presently I was sent to Oswestry. A good colonel, but 
the material at his disposal was discouraging. The men 
were mostly compulsory enlistments, and the officers, with 
few exceptions, useless. The first task I was given was to 
superintend the entraining of battalion stores and transport; 
we were moving to Kinmel Park Camp, near Rhyl. I was 
given a company of one hundred and fifty men and allowed 
six hours for the job. I chose fifty of the stronger men and 
three or four N.C.O.’s who looked capable, and sent the rest 
away to play football. By organizing the job in the way that 
I had learnt in the First Battalion I got these fifty men to 
load the train in two hours less than the scheduled time. The 
colonel congratulated me. At Rhyl he gave me the job of 
giving ‘further instruction’ to the sixty or so young officers 
who had been sent to him from the cadet-battalions. Few 
officers in the battalion had seen any active service. Among 
the few was Howell Davies (now literary editor of the S/ar), 
who had had a bullet through his head and was in as nervous a 
condition as myself. We became friends, and discussed the 
war and poetry late at night in the hut; we used to argue 
furiously, shouting each other down. 

It was at this point that I remembered Nancy Nicholson. 
I had first met her at Harlech, where the Nicholsons had a 
house, when I was on leave in April 1916 after the operation 
on my nose. She was sixteen then, on holiday from school. 
I had made friends with her brother Ben, the painter, whose 
asthma had kept him out of the army. When I went back 
to France in 1917 I had gone to say good-bye to Ben and 
the rest of the family on the way to Victoria Station, and 


the last person to say good-bye to me at that time was Nancy. 
I remembered her standing in the doorway in her black 
velvet dress. She was ignorant but independent-minded, 
good-natured, hard, and as sensible about the war as anybody 
at home could be. In the summer of 1917 (shortly after 
the episode with the Somerville nurse) I had seen her again 
and we had gone together to a revue, the first revue I had 
been to in my life. It was Cheef\ Lee White was in it, singing 
of Black-eyed Susans, and how ‘Girls must all be Farmers’ 
Boys, off with skirts, wear corduroys,’ and Nancy told 
me that she was now on the land herself. She showed me her 
paintings, illustrations to Stevenson’s Child's Garden of 
Verses\ my child-sentiment and hers -she had a happy 
childhood to look back on — answered each other. I liked all 
her family, particularly her mother, now dead, Mabel 
Nicholson, the painter, a beautiful wayward Scotch-melan- 
choly person. William Nicholson, again ‘the painter,’ is still 
among my friends. Tony, a brother, just older than Nancy, 
was a gunner, waiting to go to France. 

I began a correspondence with Nancy about some chil- 
dren’s rhymes of mine which she was going to illustrate. 
Then I found that I was in love with her, and on my next 
leave, in October 1917, I visited her at the farm where she 
was working, at Hilton in Huntingdonshire. I helped her to 
put mangolds through a slicer. She was alone, except for her 
black poodle, among farmers, farm labourers, and wounded 
soldiers who had been put on land-service. I was alone too 
in my Garrison Battalion. Our letters became more intimate 
after this. She warned me that she was a feminist and that 
I had to be very careful what I said about women; the 
attitude of the Huntingdon farmers to their wives and 
daughters kept her in a continual state of anger she said. 


I had been passed Bi now, but orders came for me to 
proceed to Gibraltar. This was a disarrangement of my 
plans. Gibraltar was a dead-end; it would be as di£Scult to 
get from there to Palestine as it would be from England. 
A friend in the War Office undertook to cancel the order 
for me until a vacancy could be found in the battalion in 
Egypt. At Rhyl I was enjoying the first independent 
command I had yet had in the army. I got it through a 
scare of an invasion of the north-east coast, to follow a sortie 
of the German Fleet. A number of battalions were sent 
across England for its defence. All fit men of the Third 
Garrison Battalion were ordered to move at twenty-four 
hours’ notice to York. (There was a slight error, however, 
in the Morse message from War Office to Western Com- 
mand. Instead of dash-dot-dash-dash they sent dash-dot- 
dash-dot, so the battalion was sent to Cork instead. Yet it 
was not recalled, being needed as much in Cork as in York; 
Ireland was in great unrest since the Easter rising in 1916, 
and Irish troops at the depots were giving away their rifles 
to Sinn Feiners.) The colonel told me that I was the only 
officer he could trust to look after the remainder of the 
battalion - thirty young officers and four or five hundred 
men engaged in camp-duties. He left me a competent 
adjutant and three officers’ chargers to ride. He also asked 
me to keep an eye on his children, whom he had to leave 
behind until a house was found for them at Cork; I used to 
play about a good deal with them. There was also a draft of 
two hundred trained men under orders for Gibraltar. 

I got the draft off all right, and the inspecting general was 
so pleased with the soldier-like appearance that the adjutant 
and I had given them that he sent them all to the camp 
cinema at his own expense. This gave me a good mark 


with the colonel in Ireland. The climax of my good services 
was when I checked an attempt on the part of the camp 
quartermaster to make the battalion responsible for the loss 
of five hundred blankets. It happened like this. Suddenly 
one night I had three thousand three hundred leave-men 
from France thrown under my command; they were Irish- 
men, from every regiment in the army, and had been held 
up at Holyhead on the way home by the presence of sub- 
marines in the Irish Sea. They were rowdyand insubordinate, 
and for the four days that they were with me I had little 
rest. The five hundred missing blankets were some of the 
six thousand six hundred that had been issued to them, and 
had probably been sold in Rhyl to pay for cigarettes and 
beer. I was able to prove at the Court of Inquiry that the 
men, though attached to the battalion for pxirposes of 
discipline, had been issued with blankets direct from the 
camp quartermaster’s stores before coming to it. The loss 
of the blankets might be presumed to have taken place 
between the time of issue and the time that the men arrived 
in the battalion lines. I had given no receipt to the camp 
quartermaster for the blankets. The Court of Inquiry was 
held in the camp quartermaster’s private oflice; but I in- 
sisted that he should leave the room while evidence was 
being taken, because it was now no longer his private office 
but a Court of Inquiry. He had to go out, and his ignorance 
of my line of defence saved the case. This success, and the 
evidence that I was able to give the colonel of presents 
accepted by the battalion mess-president when at Rhyl, from 
wholesale caterers (the mess-president had tried to make me 
pay my mess-bill twice over and this was my retaliation), so 
pleased the colonel that he recommended me for the Russian 
Order of St. Anne, with Crossed Swords, of the Third Class. 


So, after all, I would not have left the army undecorated but 
for the October revolution, which cancelled the award-list. 

I saw Nancy again in December when I went to London, 
and we decided to get married at once. We attached no 
importance to the ceremony. Nancy said she did not want 
to disappoint her father, who liked weddings and things. 
I was still expecting orders for Egypt and intending to go 
on to Palestine. Nancy’s mother said that she would permit 
the marriage on one condition: that I should go to a London 
lung specialist to see whether I was fit for eventual service 
in Palestine. I went to Sir James Fowler, who had visited 
me at Rouen when I was wounded. He told me that my 
lungs were not so bad, though I had bronchial adhesions 
and my wounded lung had only a third of its proper ex- 
pansion; but that my general nervous condition made it 
folly for me to think of active service in any theatre of war. 

Nancy and I were married in January 1918 in St. James’ 
Church, Piccadilly. She was just eighteen and I was twenty- 
two. George Mallory was the best man. Nancy had read 
the marriage-service for the first time that morning and had 
been horrified by it. She all but refused to go through the 
ceremony at all, though I had arranged for it to be modified 
and reduced to the shortest possible form. Another caricature 
scene to look back on: myself striding up the red carpet 
wearing field-boots, spurs, and sword; Nancy meeting me 
in a blue-check silk wedding dress, utterly furious; packed 
benches on either side of the church, full of relatives; aimts 
using handkerchiefs; the choir boys out of tune; Nancy 
savagely muttering the responses, myself shouting them out 
in a parade-ground voice. Then the reception. At this stage 
of the war, sugar was practically unobtainable; the wedding 
cake was'ln three tiers, but all the sugar icing was plaster. 


The Nicholsons had had to save up their sugar and butter 
cards for a month to make the cake taste anything like a cake 
at all. When the plaster case was lifted off there was a sigh 
of disappointment from the guests. A dozen of champagne 
had been got in. Champagne was another scarcity and 
there was a rush towards the table. Nancy said: ‘Well, Fm 
going to get something out of this wedding, at any rate,’ 
and grabbed a bottle. After three or four glasses she went 
off and changed back into her land-girl’s costume of breeches 
and smock. My mother, who had been thoroughly enjoying 
the proceedings, caught hold of E. V. Lucas, who was stand- 
ing next to her, and exclaimed: ‘Oh dear, I wish she had not 
done that.’ The embarrassments of our wedding night were 
somewhat eased by an air-raid; bombs were dropping not 
far off and the hotel was in an uproar. 

A week later she returned to her farm and I to my soldiers. 
It was an idle life now. I had no men on parade; they were 
all employed on camp duties. And I had found a lieutenant 
with enough experience to attend to the ‘further instruction’ 
of the young officers. My orderly room took about ten 
minutes a day; crime was rare, and the adjutant always had 
ready and in order the few documents to be signed; and 
I was free to ride my three chargers over the countryside 
for the rest of the day. I used to visit the present Arch- 
bishop of Wales frequently at his palace at St. Asaph; his 
son had been killed in the First Battalion. We found that 
we had in common a taste for the curious. I have kept a 
postcard from him which runs as follows: 

The Palace, St. Asaph. 

Hippophagist banquet held at Langham’s Hotel, 

February 1868, A. G. Asaph. 


(I met numbers of bishops during the war but none since; 
except the Bishop of Oxford, in a railway carriage in 1927, 
who was discussing the beauties of Richardson. And the 
Bishop of Liverpool, at Harlech, in 1923. I was making tea 
on the sea-shore when he came out from the sea in great pain, 
having been stung in the thigh by a jellyfish. He gladly 
accepted a cup of tea, tut-tutting miserably to himself that 
he had been under the impression that jellyfish only stung 
in foreign parts. As a record of the occasion he gave me a 
silver pencil which he had found in the sandhills while 

I grew tired of this idleness and arranged to be transferred 
to the Sixteenth Officer Cadet Battalion in another part of 
the same camp. It was the same sort of work that I had 
done at Oxford, and I was there from February 1918 until 
the Armistice in November. Rhyl was much healthier than 
Oxford and I found that I could play games without danger 
of another breakdown. A job was found for Nancy at a 
market-gardener’s near the camp, so she came up to live 
with me. A month or two later she found that she was 
to have a baby and had to stop land work; she went back to 
her drawing. 

None of my friends had liked the idea of my marriage, 
particularly to anyone as young as Nancy; one of them, 
Robbie Ross, Wilde's literary executor, whom I had met 
through Siegfried and who had been very good to me, had 
gone so far as to try to discourage me by hinting that there 
was negro blood in the Nicholson family, that it was possible 
that one of Nancy’s and my children might revert to coal- 
black. Siegfried found it difficult to accustom himself to the 
idea of Nancy, whom he had not met, but he still wrote. 
After a few months at Craiglockhart, though he in no way 


renounced his pacifist views, he decided that the only possible 
thing to do was, after all, to go back to France. He had written 
to me in the previous October that seeing me again had made 
Tiim more restless than ever. Hospital life was nearly un- 
bearable; the feeling of isolation was the worst. He had had 
a long letter from Old Joe to say that the First Battalion had 
just got back to rest from Polygon Wood; the conditions 
and general situation were more appalling than anything he 
had yet seen — three miles of morasses, shell-holes and dead 
men and horses through which to get the rations up. 
Siegfried said that he would rather be anywhere than in 
hospital; he couldn’t bear to think of poor Old Joe lying out 
all night in shell-holes and being shelled (several of the 
ration party were killed, but at least, according to Joe, ‘the 
battalion got its rations’). If only the people who wrote 
leading articles for the Morning Post about victory could read 
Joe’s letter! 

It was about this time that Siegfried wrote the poem 
When Pm asleep dreaming and lulled and warm, about the 
ghosts of the soldiers who had been killed, reproaching him 
in his dreams for his absence from the trenches, saying that 
they had been looking for him in the line from Ypres to 
Frise and had not found him. He told Rivers that he would 
go back to France if they would send him, making it quite 
clear that his views were exactly the same as they had been 
in July when he had written the letter of protest — only more 
so. He demanded a written guarantee that he would be sent 
back at once and not kept hanging about in a training 
battalion. He wrote reprehending me for the attitude I had 
taken in July, when I was reminding him that the regiment 
would only understand his protest as a lapse from good form 
and a failure to be a gentleman. It was suicidal stupidity 

Ch. xxy 


and credulity, he said, to identify oneself in any way with 
good form or gentlemanliness, and if I had real courage I 
wouldn’t be acquiescing as I was. He pointed out that I 
admitted that the people who sacrificed the troops were 
callous b — s, and that the same thing was happening in all 
countries except parts of Russia. I forget how I answered 
Siegfried. I might have pointed out that when I was in 
France I was never such a fire-eater as he was. The amount 
of Germans that I had killed or caused to be killed was 
negligible compared with his wholesale slaughter. The fact 
was that the direction of Siegfried’s unconquerable idealism 
changed with his environment; he varied between happy 
warrior and bitter pacifist. His poem: 

To these I turn, in these I trust. 

Brother Lead and Sister Steel; 

To his blind power I make appeal, 

I guard her beauty clean from rust. . . . 

was originally written seriously, inspired by Colonel 
Campbell, v.c.’s bloodthirsty ‘Spirit of the Bayonet’ address 
at an army school. Later he offered it as a satire; and it is 
a poem that comes off whichever way you read it. I was both 
more consistent and less heroic than Siegfried. 

I have forgotten how it was worked and whether I had a 
hand in it, but he was sent to Palestine this time. He seemed 
to like it there, and I was distressed in April to have a letter 
from ‘somewhere in Ephraim,’ that the division was moving 
to France. He wrote that he would be sorry to be in trenches, 
going over the top to take Morlancourt or M^aulte. Seeing 
that we had recaptured Morlancourt had brought it home to 
him. He said that he expected that the First and Second 

Ch. XXV 


Battalions had about ceased to exist by now for the «th time. 
I heard again from him at the end of May, from France. 
He quoted Duhamel. ‘It was written that you should suflfer 
without purpose and without hope, but I will not let all 
your sufferings be lost in the abyss.’ Yet he wrote the next 
paragraph in his happy-warrior vein, saying that his men 
were the best that he’d ever served with. He wished I 
could see them. I mightn’t believe it, but he was training 
them bloody well. He couldn’t imagine whence his flame- 
like ardour had come, but it had come. His military efficiency 
was derived from the admirable pamphlets that were now 
issued, so different from the stuff we used to get two years 
before. He said that when he read my letter he began to 
think, damn Robert, damn every one except his company, 
which was the smartest turn-out ever seen, and damn Wales 
and damn leave and damn being wounded and damn every- 
thing except staying with his company until they were all 
melted away. (Limping and crawling across the shell-holes, 
lying very still in the afternoon sunshine in dignified 
desecrated attitudes.) I was to remember this mood when 
I saw him {if I saw him) worn out and smashed up again, 
querulous and nerve-ridden. Or when I read something in 
the casualty list and got a polite letter from Mr. Lousada, 
his solicitor. There never was such a battalion, he said, since 
1916, but in six months it would have ceased to exist. 

Nancy’s brother, Tony, was also in France now. Nancy’s 
mother made herself ill with worrying about him. Early in 
July he was due to come home on leave; I was on leave myself 
at the end of one of the four-months’ cadet courses, staying 
with the rest of Nancy’s family at a big Tudor house near 
Harlech. It was the most haunted house that I have ever 
been in, though the ghosts were invisible except in the 


mirrors. They would open and shut doors, rap on the oak 
panels, knock the shades off lamps, and drink the wine from 
the glasses at our elbows'when we were not looking. The house 
belonged to an officer in the Second Battalion whose ancestors 
had most of them died of drink. There was only one visible 
ghost, a little yellow dog that appeared on the lawn in the 
early morning to announce deaths. Nancy saw it one day. 

This was the time of the first Spanish influenza epidemic 
and Nancy’s mother caught it, but she did not want to miss 
Tony when he came on leave. She wanted to go to theatres 
with him in London; they were devoted to each other. So 
when the doctor came she reduced her temperature with 
aspirin and pretended that she was all right. But she knew 
that the ghosts in the mirrors knew. She died in London on 
July 13th, a few days later. While she was dying her chief 
feeling was one of pleasure that Tony had got his leave 
prolonged on her account. (Tony was killed two months 
later.) Nancy’s mother was a far more important person to 
her than I was, and I was alarmed of the effect that the shock 
of her death might have on the baby. A week later I heard 
that on the day that she had died Siegfried had been shot 
through the head while making a daylight patrol through 
long grass in No Man’s Land. And he wrote me a verse 
letter which I cannot quote, though I should like to do so. 
It is the most terrible of his war-poems. 

And I went on mechanically at my cadet-battalion work. 
The candidates for commissions we got were no longer 
gentlemen in the regimental sense — mostly Manchester 
cotton clerks and Liverpool shipping clerks — but they were 
all experienced men from France and were quiet and well 
behaved. We failed about one in three. And the war went 
on and on. I was then writing a book of poems called 

Ci. XXV 


Country Sentiment. Instead of children as a way of forgetting 
the war, I used Nancy. Country Sentiment, dedicated to her, 
was a collection of romantic poems and ballads. At the end 
was a group of pacifist war-poems. It contained one about 
the French civilians - 1 cannot think how I came to put so 
many lies in it - 1 even said that old Adelphine Heu of 
Annezin gave me a painted china plate, and that her pride 
was hurt when I offered to pay her. The truth is that I bought 
the plate from her for about fifteen shillings and that I never 
got it from her. Adelphine’s daughter-in-law would not 
allow her to give it up, claiming it as her own, and I never 
got my money back from Adelphine. This is only one of 
many of my early poems that contain falsities for public 

In November came the Armistice. I heard at the same 
time news of the death of Frank Jones-Bateman, who had 
gone back again just before the end, and of Wilfred Owen, 
who often used to write to me from France, sending me his 
poems. Armistice-night hysteria did not touch the camp 
much, though some of the Canadians stationed there went 
down to Rhyl to celebrate in true overseas style. The news 
sent me out walking alone along the dyke above the marshes 
of Rhuddlan (an ancient battle-field, the Flodden of Wales) 
cursing and sobbing and thinking of the dead. 


In the middle of December the cadet-battalions were wound 
up and the officers, after a few days’ leave, were sent back 
to their units. The Third Battalion of the Royal Welch was 
now at Limerick. I decided to overstay my leave luitil 
Nancy’s baby was born. She was expecting it early in January 
1919, and her father had taken a house at Hove for the 
occasion. Jenny was born on Twelfth Night. She was 
neither coal-black nor affected by the shocks of the previous 
months. Nancy had had no foreknowledge of the 
experience - 1 assumed that she knew — and it took her 
years to recover from it. I went over to Limerick; the 
battalion was at the Castle Barracks. I lied my way out 
of the over-staying of leave. 

Limerick was a Sinn Fein stronghold, and there were 
constant clashes between the troops and the young men of 
the town, yet little ill-feeling; Welsh and Irish got on well 
together, as inevitably as Welsh and Scottish disagreed. The 
Royal Welch had the situation well in hand; they made a 
joke of politics and used their entrenching-tool handles as 
shillelaghs. It looked like a town that had been through the 
war. The main streets had holes in them like shell-craters 
and many of the bigger houses seemed on the point of 
collapse. I was told by an old man at an antique shop that 
no new houses were now built in Limerick, that when one 
house fell down the survivors moved into another. He said 
too that everyone died of drink in Limerick except the 
Plymouth Brethren, who died of religious melancholia. Life 
did not start in the city before about a quarter past nine in 
the morning. At nearly nine o’clock once I walked down 
O’Connell Street and found it deserted. When the hour 



chimed, the door of a magnificent Georgian house was flung 
open and out came, first a shower of slops, which just missed 
me, then a dog, which lifted up its leg against a lamp-post, 
then a nearly naked child, which sat down in the gutter and 
rummaged in a heap of refuse for dirty pieces of bread; 
finally a donkey, which began to bray. Ireland was exactly 
as I had pictured it. I felt its charm as dangerous. Yet 
when I was detailed to take out a search-party in a neigh- 
bouring village for concealed rifles I asked the adjutant to 
find a substitute; I said that I was an Irishman and did not 
wish to be mixed up in Irish politics. 

I realized too that I had a new loyalty, to Nancy and the 
baby, tending to overshadow regimental loyalty now that 
the war was over. Once I was writing a rhymed nonsense 
letter to Nancy and Jenny in my quarters overlooking the 
barrack square: 

Is there any song sweet enough 
For Nancy or for Jenny? 

Said Simple Simon to the Pieman: 

‘Indeed, I know not any.’ 

I have counted the miles to Babylon, 

I have flown the earth like a bird, 

I have ridden cock-horse to Banbury Cross, 

But no such song have I heard. 

At that moment some companies of the battalion returned 
to barracks from a route-march; the drums and fifes drew 
up under my window, making the panes rattle with The 
British Grenadiers. The insistent repetition of the tune and 
the hoarse words of command as the parade formed up in 


the square, company by company, challenged Banbury Cross 
and Babylon. The British Grenadiers succeeded for a moment 
in forcing their way into the poem: 

Some speak of Alexander, 

And some of Hercules, 

but were driven out: 

But where are there any like Nancy and Jenny, 
Where are there any like these? 

I had ceased to be a British grenadier. 

So I decided to resign my commission at once. I con- 
sulted the priority list of trades for demobilization and 
found that agricultural workers and students were among 
the first classes to go. I did not particularly want to be a 
student again. I would rather have been an agricultural 
worker (Nancy and I spoke of farming when the war ended), 
but I had no agricultural background. And I found that 
I could take a two years’ course at Oxford with a Government 
grant of two hundred pounds a year, and would be excused 
the intermediate examination (Mods.) on account of war- 
service. The preliminary examination (Smalls) I had already 
been excused because of a certificate examination that I had 
taken while still at Charterhouse. So there only remained 
the finals. The grant would be increased by a children’s 
allowance. This sounded good enough. It seemed absurd 
at the time to suppose that university degrees would count 
for anything in a regenerated post-war England; but Oxford 
was a convenient place to mark time until I felt more like 
working for my living. We were all so accustomed to the 



war-time view, that the only possible qualification for peace- 
time employment would be a good record of service in 
the field, that we took it for granted that our scars and our 
commanding-officers’ testimonials would get us whatever 
we wanted. A few of my fellow-officers did manage, as a 
matter of fact, to take advantage of the patriotic spirit of 
employers before it cooled again, sliding into jobs for which 
they were not properly qualified. 

I wrote to a friend in the Demobilization Department of 
the War Office asking him to expedite my demobilization. 
He wrote back that he would do his best, but that I must be 
certified not to have had charge of Government moneys for 
the last six months; and I had not. But the adjutant had just 
decided to put me in command of a company. He said that 
he was short of officers whom he knew could be trusted with 
company accounts. The latest arrivals from the new-army 
battalions were a constant shame to the senior officers. 
Paternity-orders, stumer cheques, and drunk on parade were 
frequent. Not to mention table-manners, at which Sergeant 
Malley would stand aghast. There were now two mess 
ante-rooms, the junior and the senior, yet if a junior officer 
was regimentally a gentleman (belonged, that is, to the 
North Wales landed gentry or had been to Sandhurst) he was 
invited to use the senior ante-room and be among his own 
class. All this must have seemed very strange to the three 
line-battalion second-lieutenants captured in 1914, now pro- 
moted captain by the death of most of their contemporaries 
and set free by the terms of the Armistice. 

The adjutant cancelled the intended appointment only 
when I promised to help him with the battalion theatricals 
that were being arranged for St. David’s Day; I undertook 
to play Cinna in Julius Caesar. His change of mind saved me 




over two hundred pounds. Next day the senior lieutenant in 
the company that I was to have taken over went ofF with 
the company cash-box, and I would have been legally 
responsible. Before the war he used to give displays at 
Blackpool Pier as The Handcuff King\ he got away safely to 

I went out a few miles from Limerick to visit my imcle, 
Robert Cooper, at Cooper’s Hill. He was a farmer, a retired 
naval officer, and had been having his ricks burnt and cattle 
driven. He was very despondent. Through the window he 
showed me distant cattle grazing beside the Shannon. ‘They 
have been out there all winter,’ he said, ‘and I haven’t had 
the heart to go out and look at them these three months.’ 
I spent the night at Cooper’s Hill and woke up with a chill. 
I knew that it was the beginning of influenza. At the 
barracks I found that the War Office telegram had come 
through for my demobilization, but that all demobilization 
among troops in Ireland was to be stopped on the following 
day for an indefinite period because of the troubles there. 
The adjutant, showing me the telegram, said: ‘We’re not 
going to let you go. You promised to help us with those 
theatricals.’ I protested, but he was firm. I did not intend 
to have my influenza out in an Irish military hospital with 
my lungs in their present state. 

I had to think quickly. I decided to make a run for it. 
The orderly-room sergeant had made my papers out on 
receipt of the telegram. I had all my kit ready packed. 
There only remained two things to get; the colonel’s signature 
to the statement that I had handled no company moneys, 
and the secret code-marks which only the battalion demobili- 
zation officer could supply - but he was hand-in-glove with 
the adjutant, so it was no use asking him for them. The last 



train before demobilization ended was the six-fifteen from 
Limerick the same evening, February 13th. I decided to 
wait until the adjutant had left the orderly room and then 
casually ask the colonel to sign the statement, without 
mentioning the adjutant’s objection to my going. The 
adjutant remained in the orderly room until five minutes 
past six. As soon as he was out of sight I hurried in, saluted, 
got the colonel’s signature, saluted, hurried out to collect 
my baggage. I had counted on a jaunting-car at the barrack 
gates but none was to be seen. I had about five minutes 
left now and the station was a good distance away. I saw a 
corporal who had been with me in the First Battalion. 
I shouted to him: ‘Corporal Summers, quick! Get a squad of 
men. I’ve got my ticket and I want to catch the last train 
back.’ Summers promptly called four men; they picked up 
my stuff and doubled off with it, left, right, left, to the 
station. I tumbled into the train as it was moving out of the 
station and threw a pound-note to Corporal Summers. 
‘Good-bye, corporal, drink my health.’ 

But still I had not my demobilization code-marks and 
knew that when I reached the demobilization centre at 
Wimbledon they would refuse to pass me out. I did not 
care very much. Wimbledon was in England, and I would 
at least have my influenza out in an English and not an Irish 
hospital. My temperature was running high now and my 
mind was working clearly as it always does in fever. My 
visual imagery, which is cloudy and partial at ordinary times, 
becomes defined and complete. At Fishguard I bought a 
copy of the South Wales Echo and read in it that there would 
be a strike of London Electric Railways the next day, 
14th February, if the railway directors would not meet the 
men’s demands. So when the train steamed into Paddington 


and while it was still moving I jumped out, fell down, 
picked myself up and ran across to the station entrance, 
where, in spite of competition from porters — a feeble crew 
at this time — I caught the only taxi in the station as its fare 
stepped out. I had foreseen the taxi-shortage and could 
aflford to waste no time getting to Wimbledon. I brought my 
taxi back to the train, where scores of stranded officers looked 
at me with envy. One, who had travelled down in my 
compartment, had been met by his wife. I said: ‘Excuse me, 
but would you like to share my taxi anywhere? (I have 
influenza, I warn you.) I’m going down to Wimbledon, so 
I only need go as far as Waterloo; the steam-trains are still 
running.’ They were delighted; they said that they lived 
out at Ealing and had no idea how to get there except by 
taxi. On the way to Waterloo he said to me: ‘I wish there 
was some way of showing otir gratitude. I wish there was 
something we could do for you.’ I said: ‘Well, there is only 
one thing in the world that I want at the moment. But you 
can’t give it to me, I’m afraid. And that,’ I said, ‘is the 
proper code-marks to complete my demobilization papers. 
I’ve bolted from Ireland without them, and there’ll be hell 
to pay if the Wimbledon people send me back.’ He rapped 
on the glass of the taxi and stopped it. Then he got down 
his bag, opened it, and produced a satchel of army forms. 
He said: ‘Well, I happen to be the Cork District Demobiliza- 
tion Officer and I’ve got the whole bag of tricks here.’ So 
he filled my papers in. 

At Wimbledon, instead of having to wait in a queue for 
nine or ten hours as I had expected, I was given priority 
and released at once; Ireland was officially a ‘theatre of war’ 
and demobilization from theatres of war had priority over 
home-service demobilization. So after a hurried visit to my 


parents, who were living dose by, I continued to Hove, 
arriving at supper-time. When I came in, I had a sudden 
terror that made me unable to speak. I seemed to see 
Nancy’s mother. She was looking rather plump and staid 
and dressed unlike herself, and did not appear to recognize 
me. She was sitting at the table between Nancy and her 
father. It was like a bad dream; I did not know what to say 
or do. I knew I was ill, but this was worse than illness. Then 
Nicholson introduced me: ‘This is Nancy’s Aunt Dora, just 
over from Canada.’ 

I warned them all that I had influenza; and hurried off to 
bed. Within a day or two everybody in the house had caught 
it except Nicholson and the baby and one servant who kept 
it off by a gipsy’s charm. I think it was the leg of a lizard 
tied in a bag round her neck. A new epidemic as bad as the 
summer one had started; there was not a nurse to be had in 
Brighton. Nicholson at last found two ex-nurses. One was 
competent, but frequently drunk, and when drunk she 
would ransack all the wardrobes and pile the contents into 
her own bags; the other, sober but incompetent, would 
stand a dozen times a day in front of the open window, 
spread out her arms, and cry in a stage-voice: ‘Sea, sea, give 
my husband back to me.’ The husband, by the way, was 
not drowned, merely unfaithful. A doctor, found with 
difiiculty, said that I had no chance of recovering; it was 
septic pneumonia now and both my lungs were affected. 
But I had determined that, having come through the war, I 
would not allow myself to succumb to Spanish influenza. 
This, now, was the third time in my life that I had been 
given up as dying, and each time because of my lungs. The 
first occasion was when I was seven years old and had double- 
pneumonia following measles. Yet my lungs are naturally 


very sound, possibly the strongest part of me and, therefore, 
my danger mark. This time again I recovered and was up 
a few weeks later in time to see the mutiny of the Guards, 
when about a thousand men of all regiments marched out 
from Shoreham Camp and paraded through the streets of 
Brighton in protest against camp discipline. 

The reaction against military discipline between the 
Armistice and the signing of peace delighted Siegfried and 
myself. Siegfried had taken a prominent part in the General 
Election which Lloyd George forced immediately after the 
Armistice, asking for a warrant for hanging the Kaiser and 
making a stern peace. He had been supporting Philip 
Snowden’s candidature on a pacifist platform and had faced 
a threatening civilian crowd, trusting that his three wound 
stripes and the mauve and white ribbon of his military cross 
would give him a privileged hearing. Snowden and Ramsay 
McDonald were perhaps the two most unpopular men in 
England at the end of the war. We now half hoped that 
there would be a general rising of ex-service men against 
the Coalition Government, but it was not to be. Once back 
in England the men were content to have a roof over their 
heads, civilian food, beer that was at least better than French 
beer, and enough blankets at night. They might find over- 
crowding in their homes, but this could be nothing to what 
they had been accustomed to; in France a derelict four- 
roomed cottage would provide billets for sixty men. They 
had won the war and they were satisfied. They left the rest 
to Lloyd George. The only serious outbreak was at Rhyl, 
where there was a two days’ mutiny of Canadians with much 
destruction and several deaths. The signal for the outbreak 
was the cry: ‘Come on, the Bolsheviks.’ 

When I was well enough to travel, Nancy, I and the baby 

Ch. xxri 


went up to Harlech, where Nicholson had lent us his house 
to live in. We were there for a year. I discarded nay uniform, 
having worn nothing else for four and a half years, and looked 
into my school trunk to see what I had to wear. There was 
only one suit that was not school uniform and I had grown 
out of that. I found it difficult to believe that the war was 
over. When I had last been a civilian I had been still at 
school, so I had no experience of independent civilian life. 
The Harlech villagers treated me with the greatest respect. 
At the Peace Day celebrations in the castle I was asked, 
as the senior of the officers present who had served overseas, 
to make a speech about the glorious dead. I have forgotten 
what I said, but it was in commendation of the Welshman as 
a fighting man and was loudly cheered. I was still mentally 
and nervously organized for war; shells used to come 
bursting on my bed at midnight even when Nancy was 
sharing it with me; strangers in day-time would assume the 
faces of friends who had been killed. When I was strong 
enough to climb the hill behind Harlech and revisit my 
favourite country I found that I could only see it as a pro- 
spective battlefield. I would find myself working out tactical 
problems, planning how I would hold the Northern Artro 
valley against an attack from the sea, or where I would put 
a Lewis-gun if I were trying to rush Dolwreiddiog farm from 
the brow of the hill, and what would be the best position for 
the rifle-grenade section. I still had the army habit of 
commandeering anything of uncertain ownersliip that I 
found lying about; also a difficulty in telling the truth - it 
was always easier for me now when overtaken in any fault 
to lie my way out. I applied the technique of taking over 
billets or trenches to a review of my present situation. Food, 
water supply, possible dangers, communication, sanitation. 


protection against the weather, fuel and lighting — each item 
was ticked off as satisfactory. And other loose habits of war- 
time survived, such as stopping passing motors for a lift, 
talking without embarrassment to my fellow-travellers in 
railway carriages, and unbuttoning by the roadside without 
shame, whoever was about. And I retained the technique of 
endurance, a brutal persistence in seeing things through, 
somehow, anyhow, without finesse, satisfied with the main 
points of any situation. But I modified my language, which 
had suddenly become foul on the day of Loos and had been 
foul ever since. The chief dilFerence between war and peace 
was money. I had never had to worry about that since my 
first days at Wrexham; I had even put by about ,^150 of my 
pay, invested in War Bonds. Neither Nancy nor I knew the 
value of money and this £150 and my war-bonus of, I think, 
£2$o and a disability pension that I was now drawing 
of £60 a year, and the occasional money that I got from 
poetry, seemed a great deal altogether. We engaged a nurse 
and a general servant and lived as though we had an income 
of about a thousand a year. Nancy spent much of her time 
drawing (she was illustrating some poems of mine), and I 
was busy getting Country Sentiment in order and writing 

I was very thin, very nervous, and had about four years’ 
loss of sleep to make up. I found that I was suffering from 
a large sort of intestinal worm which came from drinking 
bad water in France. I was now waiting until I should be 
well enough to go to Oxford with the Government educa- 
tional grant; it seemed the easiest thing to do. I knew that it 
would be years before I was fit for anything besides a quiet 
country life. There was no profession that I wished to take 
up, though for a while I considered school-mastering. My 



disabilities were many; I could not use a telephone, I was 
sick every time I travelled in a train, and if I saw more than 
two new people in a single day it prevented me from sleeping. 
I was ashamed of myself as a drag on Nancy. I had been 
much better when I was at Rhyl, but my recent pneumonia 
had set me back to my condition of I9i7» 

Siegfried had gone to live at Oxford as soon as he was 
demobilized, expecting me to join him. But after being there 
for a term or so he became literary editor of the newly- 
published Herald. He gave me books to review for it. 
In these days the Daily Herald was not respectable. It was 
violent. It was anti-militarist. It was the only daily paper 
that protested against the Versailles Treaty and the blockade 
of Russia by the British Fleet. The Versailles Treaty shocked 
me; it seemed to lead certainly to another war and yet nobody 
cared. When the most critical decisions were being taken 
at Paris, public interest was concentrated entirely on three 
home-news items: Hawker’s Atlantic flight and rescue, the 
marriage of Lady Diana Manners, and a marvellous horse 
called The Panther, which was the Derby favourite and came 
in nowhere. The Herald spoilt our breakfast for us every 
morning. We read in it of unemployment all over the 
country, due to the closing of munition factories, of ex- 
service men refused re-instatement in the jobs that they had 
left in the early stages of the war, of market-rigging, lock- 
outs, and abortive strikes. I began to hear news, too, of my 
mother’s relatives in Germany and the penury to which they 
had been reduced, particularly those who were retired 
ofilcials and whose pension, by the collapse of the mark, 
was reduced to a few shillings a week. Nancy and I took all 
this to heart; we now called ourselves socialists. 

The attitude of my family was doubtful. I had fought 


gallantly for my country — indeed I was the only one of my 
father’s five sons of military age who had seen active 
service — and was entitled to every consideration because of 
my shell-shocked condition; but my socialism and sympathy 
for the Bolsheviks outraged them. I once more forfeited 
the goodwill of my Uncle Charles. My father tried to talk 
me over, reminding me that my brother Philip had once 
been a pro-Boer and a Fenian, but had recovered from his 
youthful revolutionary idealism and come out all right in 
the end. Most of the elder members of my family were in 
the Near East, either married to British officials or British 
officials themselves. My father hoped that when I was 
recovered I would go to Egypt, perhaps in the consular 
service, where the family influence would be of great service 
to me, and there get over my revolutionary idealism. Social- 
ism with Nancy was rather a means to a single end. The 
most important thing to her was judicial equality of the sexes; 
she held that all the wrong in the world was caused by male 
domination and narrowness. She refused to see my experi- 
ences in the war as in any way comparable with the sufferings 
that millions of married women of the working-class went 
through. This at least had the effect of putting the war 
into the background for me; I was devoted to Nancy and 
respected her views in so far as they were impersonal. Male 
stupidity and callousness became an obsession with her and 
she found it difficult not to include me in her universal 
condemnation of men. It came to the point later when she 
could not bear a newspaper in the house. She was afraid of 
coming across something that would horrify her, some 
paragraph about the necessity of keeping up the population, 
or about women’s intelligence, or about the modern girl, or 
anything at all about women written by clergymen. We 

Ch. xxvi 


became members of the newly formed Constructive Birth 
Control Society and distributed its literature among the 
village women, to the scandal of my family. 

It was a great grief to my parents that Jenny was not 
baptized. My father wrote to Nancy’s godfather, who also 
happened to be my publisher, asking him to use his influence 
with Nancy, for whose religion he had promised at the 
font to be responsible, to make her give the child Christian 
baptism. They were scandalized too that Nancy, finding that 
it was legal to keep her own name for all purposes, refused 
to allow herself to be called Mrs. Graves in any circum- 
stances. At first I had been doubtful about this, thinking 
that perhaps it was not worth the trouble and suspicion that 
it caused; but when I saw that Nancy was now treated as 
being without personal validity I was converted. At that 
time there was no equal guardianship and the children 
were the sole property of the father; the mother was not 
legally a parent. We worked it out later that our children 
were to be thought of as solely hers, but that since I looked 
after them so much the boys should take the name of Graves - 
the girls taking Nicholson. This of course has always 
bafiled my parents. Nor could they understand then the 
intimacy of our relations with the nurse and the maid. 
They were both women to whom we had given a job because 
they were in bad luck. One of them was a girl who had had 
a child during the war by a soldier to whom she was engaged, 
who got killed in France shortly afterwards. Generosity to a 
woman like this was Christian, but intimacy seemed merely 


In October 1919 I went up to Oxford at last. The lease of 
the Harlech house was ended and Nicholson gave us the 
furniture to take with us. The city was overcrowded; the 
lodging-house keepers, some of whom had nearly starved 
during the war, now had their rooms booked up terms ahead 
and charged accordingly. Keble College had put up army 
huts for its surplus students. There was not an unfurnished 
house to be had anywhere within the three-mile radius. 
I solved the difficulty by getting permission from my 
college authorities to live five miles out, on Boar’s Hill; 
I pleaded my lungs. John Masefield, who liked my poetry, 
offered to rent us a cottage at the bottom of his garden. 

The University was very quiet. The returned soldiers 
had little temptation to rag about, break windows, get drunk, 
or have tussles with the police and races with the bulldogs 
as before the war. The boys straight from the public schools 
were quiet too. They had had the war preached at them 
continually for four years, had been told that they must 
carry on loyally at home while their brothers were serving in 
the trenches, and must make themselves worthy of such 
sacrifices. The boys had been leaving for the cadet-battalions 
at the age of seventeen, so that the masters had it all their 
own way; trouble at public schools nearly always comes 
from the eighteen-year-olds. G. N. Clarke, a history don at 
Oriel, who had been up at Oxford just before the war and 
had meanwhile been an infantryman in France and a prisoner 
in Germany, told me: ‘I can’t make out my pupils at all. They 
are all “Yes, sir” and “No, sir.” They seem positively to 
thirst for knowledge and they scribble away in their note- 
books like lunatics. I can’t remember a single instance of 




such stern endeavour in pre-war days.’ The ex-service men - 
they included scores of captains, majors, colonels, and even 
a one-armed twenty-five-year-old brigadier - though not 
rowdy, were insistent on their rights. At St. John’s they 
formed what they called a Soviet, demanding an entire 
revision of the college catering system; they won their point 
and an undergraduate representative was chosen to sit on 
the kitchen-committee. The elder dons whom I had often 
seen during the war trembling in fear of an invasion of 
Oxford, with the sacking and firing of the colleges and the 
rape of the Woodstock and Banbury Roads, and who had 
regarded all soldiers, myself included, as their noble saviours, 
now recovered their pre-war self-possession. I was amused 
at the difference in manner to me that some of them showed. 
My moral tutor, however, though he no longer saluted me 
when we met, remained a friend; he prevailed on the college 
to allow me to change my course from Classics to English 
Language and Literature and to take up my ^60 Classical 
Exhibition notwithstanding. I was glad now that it was an 
exhibition, though in 1913 I had been disappointed that it 
was not a scholarship: college regulations permitted ex- 
hibitioners to be married, scholars had to remain single. 

I used to bicycle down from Boar’s Hill every morning 
to my lectures. On the way down I would collect Edmund 
Blunden, who was attending the same course. He too had 
permission to live on the hill, on account of gassed lungs. 
I had been in correspondence with Edmund some time before 
he came to Oxford. Siegfried, when literary editor of the 
Herald, had been among the first to recognize him as a poet, 
and now I was helping him get his Wagoner through the 
press. Edmund had war-shock as badly as myself, and we 
would talk each other into an almost hysterical state about 


the trenches. We agreed that we would not be right until 
we got all that talk on to paper. He was first with Undertones 
of War, published in 1928. 

Edmund and Mary his wife rented two rooms of a cottage 
belonging to Mrs. Delilah Becker, locally known as the 
Jubilee Murderess. She was a fine-looking old lady and 
used to read her prayer-book and Bible aloud to herself 
every night, sitting at the open window. The prayer-book 
was out of date: she used to pray for the Prince Consort 
and Adelaide, the Queen Dowager. She was said to have 
murdered her husband. In Jubilee year she had gone 
away for a holiday, leaving her husband in the cottage with 
a half-witted servant-girl. News came to her that he had got 
the servant-girl into trouble. She wrote to him: ‘Dear 
husband, if I find you in my cottage when I come back you 
shall be no more.’ He did not believe her and she found him 
in the cottage, and sure enough he was no more. She told 
the police that he had gone away when he saw how angry 
with him she was; but no one had seen him go. He had 
even left his silver watch behind, ticking on a nail on the 
bedroom wall. The neighbours swore that she had buried 
him in the garden. Mary Blunden said that it was more 
probable that he was buried somewhere in their part of the 
cottage, which was semi-detached. ‘There’s an awfully 
funny smell about here sometimes,’ she said. Old Delilah 
said to Mary once: ‘I have often wondered what has happened 
to the old pepper-and-salt suit he had on when he was - when 
he went away.’ Whenever she went out she took the carving- 
knife out of the drawer and laid it on the kitchen-table, 
where it could be seen by them when they went past her 
window. I liked Delilah very much and sent her a pound 
of tea every year until her death. Her comment on life in 

Ch. xxvii 


general was: ‘Fair play’s good sport, and we’re all mortal 
worms.’ She also used to say: ‘While there’s wind and water 
a man’s all right.’ 

I found the English Literature cotirse tedious, especially 
eighteenth-century poets. My tutor, Mr. Percy Simpson, 
the editor of Ben Jonson’s plays, sympathized. He said that 
he had once suffered for his preference for the Romantic 
revivalists. He had been beaten by his schoolmaster for 
having a Shelley in his possession. He had protested between 
the blows: ‘Shelley is beautiful! Shelley is beautiful!’ But he 
warned me that I must on no account disparage the eigh- 
teenth century when I sat for my final examination. It was 
also difficult for me, too, to concentrate on cases and genders 
and irregular verbs in Anglo-Saxon grammar. The Anglo- 
Saxon lecturer was candid about his subject. He said that 
it was of purely linguistic interest, that there was hardly a line 
of Anglo-Saxon extant of the slightest literary merit. I dis- 
agreed; Beowulf and Judith seemed good poems to me. 
Beowulf lying wrapped in a blanket among his platoon of 
drunken thanes in the Gothland billet; Judith going for a 
promenade to Holofernes’s staff-tent; and Brunanburgh with 
its bayonet-and-cosh fighting — all this was closer to most of 
us at the time than the drawing-room and deer-park atmo- 
sphere of the eighteenth century. Edmund and I found 
ourselves translating everything into trench-warfare terms. 
The war was not yet over for us. In the middle of a lecture 
I would have a sudden very clear experience of men on the 
march up the B^thune-La Bass6e road; the men would be 
singing and French children would be running along beside 
them, calling out: ‘Tommee, Tommee, give me bullee beef; 
and I would smell the stench of the knacker’s yard just 
outside the town. Or I would be in Laventie High Street, 


passing a company billet; an N.C.O. would roar out, Tarty, 
’shun!’ and the Second Battalion men in shorts, with brown 
knees and brown expressionless faces, would spring to their 
feet from the broken steps where they were sitting. Or I 
would be in a barn with my first platoon of the Welsh 
Regiment, watching them play nap by the light of dirty 
candle stumps. Or it would be a deep dug-out at Cambrin, 
where I was talking to a signaller; I would look up the shaft 
and see somebody’s muddy legs coming down the steps, 
and there would be a crash and the tobacco-smoke in the 
dug-out would shake with the concussion and twist about 
. in patterns like the marbling on books. These day-dreams 
persisted like an alternate life. Indeed they did not leave me 
until well on in 1928. I noticed that the scenes were nearly 
always recollections of my first four months in France; it 
seemed as though the emotion-recording apparatus had 
failed after Loos. 

The eighteenth centurywas unpopular becauseitwasFrench. 
Anti-French feeling among most ex-soldiers amounted 
almost to an obsession. Edmund, shaking with nerves, 
used to say at this time: ‘No more wars for me at any price. 
Except against the French. If there’s ever a war with them 
I’ll go like a shot.’ Pro-German feeling was increasing. 
Now that the war was over and the German armies had been 
beaten, it was possible to give the German soldier credit 
for being the best fighting-man in Europe. I often heard it 
said that it was only the blockade that had beaten them; that 
in Haig’s last push they never really broke, and that their 
machine-gun sections had held us up for as long as was 
needed to cover the withdrawal of the main forces. And even 
that we had been fighting on the wrong side; our natural 
enemies were the French. 



At the end of my first term’s work I attended the usual 
college board to give an account of myself. The spokesman 
coughed and said a little stiffly: T understand, Mr. Graves, 
that the essays that you write for your English tutor are, 
shall I say, a trifle temperamental. It appears, indeed, that 
you prefer some authors to others.’ 

There were a number of poets living on Boar’s Hill; too 
many, Edmund and I agreed. It had become almost a 
tourist centre. There was the Poet Laureate, with his bright 
eye, abrupt challenging manner, a flower in his buttonhole; 
he was one of the first men of letters to sign the Oxford 
recantation of war-time hatred against the Germans - indeed 
it was for the most part written by him. There was 
Gilbert Murray, too, gentle-voiced and with the spiritual 
look of the strict vegetarian, doing preliminary propaganda 
work for the League of Nations. Once, while I was sitting 
talking to him in his study about Aristotle’s Poetics, and he 
was walking up and down the room, I suddenly asked him: 
‘Exactly what is the principle of that walk of yours? Are 
you trying to avoid the flowers on the rug or are you trying 
to keep to the squares?’ I had compulsion-neuroses of this 
sort myself so it was easy to notice one in him. He wheeled 
round sharply: ‘You’re the first person who has caught me 
out,’ he said. ‘No, it’s not the flowers or the squares; it’s a 
habit that I have got into of doing things in sevens. I take 
seven steps, you see, then I change direction and go another 
seven steps, than I turn round. I asked Browne, the professor 
of Psychology, about it the other day, but he assured me 
it wasn’t a dangerous habit. He said: “When you find it 
getting into multiples of seven, come to me again.” ’ 

I saw most of John Masefield, a nervous, generous person, 
very sensitive to criticism, who seemed to have suffered 


greatly in the war, when an orderly in a Red Cross unit; he 
was now working at Reynard the Fox. He wrote in a hut in 
his garden surrounded by tall gorse-bushes and only 
appeared at meal-times. In the evening he used to read his 
day’s work over to Mrs. Masefield and they would correct 
it together. Masefield was at the height of his reputation 
at the time, and there was a constant flow of American 
visitors to his door. Mrs. Masefield protected Jan. She 
was from the North of Ireland, a careful manager, and put 
a necessary brake on Jan’s generosity and sociability. We 
admired the way that she stood up for her rights where less 
resolute people would have shrunk back. The tale of Mrs. 
Masefield and the rabbit. Some neighbours of ours had a 
particularly stupid Airedale; they were taking it for a walk 
past the Masefields’ house when a wild rabbit ran across 
the road from the Masefields’ gorse plantation. The Airedale 
dashed at it and missed as usual. The rabbit, not giving it 
sufficient credit for stupidity and slowness, doubled back; 
but found the dog had not yet recovered from its mistake 
and ran right into its jaws. The dog’s owners were delighted 
at the brilliance performance of their pet, recovered the 
rabbit, which was a small and inexperienced one, and took 
it home for the pot. Mrs. Masefield had seen the business 
through the plantation fence. It was not, strictly, a public 
road and the rabbitwas, therefore, legally hers. That evening 
there came a knock at the door. ‘Come in, oh, do come in, 
Mrs. Masefield.’ It was Mrs. Masefield coming for the 
skin of her rabbit. Rabbit-skins were worth a lot in 1920. 
Mrs. Masefield’s one extravagance was bridge; she used to 
play at a halfpenny a hundred, to steady her play, she told 
us. She kept goats which used to be tethered near our 
cottage and which bleated. She was a good landlord to us. 


and advised Nanqr to keep up with me intellectually if she 
wished to hold my affections. 

Another poet on Boar’s Hill was Robert Nichols, still 
another neurasthenic ex-soldier, with his flame-opal ring, 
his wide-brimmed hat, his flapping arms and ‘mournful 
grandeur’ in repose (the phrase is from a review by Sir 
Edmund Gosse). Nichols served only three weeks in France, 
in the gunners, and was in no show; but he was highly strung 
and the three weeks affected him more than twelve months 
affected some people. He was invalided out of the army and 
went to lecture in America for the Ministry of Information 
on British war-poets. He read Siegfried’s and my poetry, 
and apparently gave some account of us. A legend was 
started of Siegfried, Robert and myself as the new Three 
Musketeers. Not only was Robert not in the Royal Welch 
Fusiliers with Siegfried and myself, but the three of us have 
never been together in the same room in our lives. 

That winter George and Ruth Mallory invited Nancy and 
myself to go climbing with them. But Nancy could not 
stand heights and was having another baby; and, for myself, 
I realized that my climbing days were over. My nerves were 
bad, though possibly still good enough for an emergency, 
and beyond improvement. I was, however, drawn into one 
foolhardy experience at this time. Nancy and I were visiting 
my parents at Harlech. My two younger brothers were at 
the house. They played golf and mixed with local society. 
One evening they arranged a four at bridge with a young 
ex-airman and a Canadian colonel who was living in a house 
on the plain between Harlech Castle and the sea. The elder 
of my brothers got toothache; I said that I would take his 
place. The yoimger, still at Charterhouse, demurred. He 
was rather ashamed of me now as a non-golfer, a socialist. 


and not quite a gentleman. And my bridge might discredit 
him. I insisted, because at that time Canadian colonels 
interested me, and he made the best of it. I assured him that 
I would try not to wound his feelings. The colonel was 
about forty-five — tough, nervous, whisky-drinking, a killer. 
He was out of sorts; he said that his missus was upstairs 
with a headache and could not come down. We played three 
or four rubbers; I was playing steadily and not disgracing 
my brother. The colonel was drinking, the airman was 
competing. Finally the colonel said in a temper: ‘By God, 
this is the rottenest bridge I’ve ever sat down to. Let’s go 
bathing!’ It was half-past ten and not warm for January, 
but we went bathing and afterwards dried ourselves on 
pocket handkerchiefs. ‘We’ was the colonel, myself and 
my brother. The airman excused himself. The bathe put. 
the colonel in better humour. ‘Let’s go up to the village 
now and raid the concert. Let’s pull some of the girls out 
and have a bit of fun.’ The airman gigglingly agreed. My 
brother seemed embarrassed. The colonel said: ‘And you, 
you bloody poet, are you on?’ I said angrily: ‘Not yet. 
You’ve had your treat, colonel. I went bathing with you 
and it was cold. Now it’s my treat. I’m going to take you 
climbing and make you warm. I want to see whether you 
Canucks are all B.S. or not.’ That diverted him. 

I took them up the castle rock from the railway station 
in the dark. After the first piece, which was triciy, there 
would have been little climbing necessary if I had followed 
a zig-zag path; but I preferred to lead the colonel up several 
fairly stiff pitches. The others kept to the path. When we 
reached the top he was out of breath, a bit shaky, and most 
affable - almost affectionate. ‘That was a damn good climb 
you showed us.’ So I said: ‘We’ve not reached the top yet.’ 


‘Where are we going now?’ he asked. I said: ‘Up that 
turret.’ We climbed into the castle and walked through the 
chapel into the north-western tower. It was pitch dark. 
I took them left into the turret which adjoined the tower 
but rose some twenty feet higher. The sky showed above, 
about the size of an orange. The turret had once had a 
spiral staircase, but the central core had been broken down 
after the Cromwellian siege; only an edging of stones 
remained on the walls. This edging did not become con- 
tinuous until about the second spiral. We struck matches 
and I started up. The colonel swore and sweated, but 
followed. I showed him the trick of getting over the worst 
gap in the stones, which was too wide to bridge with one’s 
stride, by crouching, throwing one’s body forward and 
.catching the next stone with one’s hands; a scramble and 
he was there. The airman and my brother remained below. 
I was glad when we reached the second spiral. We climbed 
perhaps a hundred and twenty feet to the top. 

When we were safely down again most of the whisky 
was gone. So I said: ‘Now let’s visit the concert party.’ I 
had heard the audience dispersing, from the top of the turret. 
We visited the artistes. The colonel was most courteous 
to the women, especially the blonde soprano, but he took a 
great dislike to the tenor, a Welshman, and told him that 
he was no bloody good as a singer. He cross-examined bim 
on his military service and was delighted to find that he 
had been for some reason or other exempted. He called him 
a louse and a bloody skrim-shanker and a lot more until the 
blonde soprano, who was his wife, came to the rescue and 
threatened to chuck the colonel out. He went out grinning, 
kissing his hand to the soprano and telling the tenor to kiss 
the place where he wore no hat. The tenor turned courageous 


and shouted out something about reading the Scriptures 
and how morally unjustifiable it was to fight. We all laughed 
till we wheezed. Then the colonel said we must get a drink; 
he knocked up a hotel barman and even got inside the bar, 
but the barman refused to serve him and threatened to call 
the police. The colonel did not raid the shelves as he would 
have done half an hour before when the whisky was fiercer 
in him; he merely told the barman what he thought of the 
Welsh, broke a glass or two and walked out. ‘Let’s go home 
and have some more bridge.’ He walked arm-in-arm with me 
down the hill and confided as one family man to another that 
his nerves were all in pieces because his missus was in the 
family way. That was why he had broken up the bridge- 
party. He had wanted her to have a good sleep. ‘If we go 
back quietly now, she’ll not wake up; we can bid in whispers.’ 
So we went back and he drank silently and the airman drank 
silently and we played silently. I had three or four glasses 
myself; my brother abstained. We stopped at three-thirty 
in the morning. The colonel paid up and went to sleep on 
the sofa. I was eighteen shillings and my brother twelve 
shillings up at sixpence a hundred. I was sick and shaking 
for weeks after this. 

In March the second baby was born and we called him 
David. My mother was overjoyed. It was the first Graves 
grandson; my elder brothers had had only girls; here, at last, 
was an heir for the Graves family silver and documents. 
When Jenny was born my mother had condoled with Nancy: 
‘Perhaps it is as well to have a girl first to practise on.’ 
Nancy had from the first decided to have four children; they 
were to be like the children in her drawings and were to be 
girl, boy, girl, boy, in that order. She was going to get it all 
over quickly; she believed in young parents and families 

Ch. xxvii 


of three or four children fairly close together in age. She 
had the children in the order she intended and they were 
all like her drawings. She began to regret our marriage, as 
I also did. We wanted somehow to be dis-married — not 
by divorce, which was as bad as marriage — and able to live 
together without any legal or religious obligation to live 
together. It was about this time that I met Dick again, for 
the last time; I found him merely pleasant and disagreeable. 
He was at the university, about to enter the diplomatic 
service, and had changed so much that it seemed absurd to 
have ever suffered on his account. Yet the caricature likeness 


I MET T. E. Lawrence first at a guest-night at All Souls’. 
Lawrence had just been given a college fellowship, and it 
was the first time for many years that he had worn evening 
dress. The restlessness of his eyes was the first thing about 
him I noticed. He told me that he had read my poems in 
Egypt during one of his flying visits from Arabia; he and 
my brother Philip had been together in the Intelligence 
Department at Cairo, before his part in the Arab revolt 
had begun, working out the Turkish order of battle. I knew 
nothing about his organization of the Arab revolt, his 
exploits and sufferings in the desert, and his final entry into 
Damascus. He was merely, to me, a fellow-soldier who had 
come back to Oxford for a rest after the war. But I felt a 
sudden extraordinary sympathy with him. Later, when I 
was told that every one was fascinated by Lawrence, I tried 
to dismiss this feeling as extravagant. But it remained. 
Between lectures at Oxford I now often visited Lawrence at 
All Souls’. Though he never drank himself, he used always 
to send his scout for a silver goblet of audit ale for me. 
Audit ale was brewed in the college; it was as soft as barley- 
water but of great strength. (A prince once came down to 
Oxford to open a new museum and lunched at All Souls’ 
before the ceremony; the mildness of the audit ale deceived 
him — he took it for lager — and he had to be taken back to 
the station in a cab with the blinds drawn.) Nancy and 
I lunched in Lawrence’s rooms once with Vachel Lindsay, 
the American poet, and his mother. Mrs. Lindsay was 
from Springfield, Illinois, and, like her son, a prominent 
member of the Illinois Anti-Saloon League. When Lawrence 
told his scout that Mr. Lindsay, though a poet, was an 
3A 369 


Anti-Saloon Leaguer, he was scandalized and asked Law- 
rence’s permission to lay on Lindsay’s place a copy of verses 
composed in i66r by a fellow of the college. One stanza 

The poet divine that cannot reach wine, 

Because that his money doth many times faile, 

Will hit on the vein to make a good strain. 

If he be but inspired with a pot of good ale. 

Mrs. Lindsay had been warned by friends to comment 
on nothing unusual that she met at Oxford. Lawrence had 
brought out the college gold service in her honour and this 
she took to be the ordinary thing at auniver sity luncheon-party. 

His rooms were dark and oak-panelled. A large table 
and a desk were the principal furniture. And there were 
two heavy leather chairs, simply acquired. An American 
oil-financier had come in suddenly one day when I was 
visiting T. E. and said: ‘I am here from the States, Colonel 
Lawrence, to ask you a single question. You are the only 
man who will answer it honestly. Do Middle-Eastern con- 
ditions justify my putting any money in South Arabian 
oil?’ Lawrence, withoutrisingjsimplyanswered: ‘No.’ ‘That’s 
all I wanted to know; it was worth coming for that. Thank 
you, and good day!’ In his brief glance about the room he 
had found something missing; on his way home through 
London he chose the chairs and had them sent to Lawrence 
with his card. Other things in the room were pictures, 
including Augustus John’s portrait of Feisul, which 
Lawrence, I believe, bought from John with the diamond 
which he had worn as a mark of honour in his Arab head- 
dress; his books, including a Kelmscott Chaucer\ three 
prayer-rugs, the gift of Arab leaders who had fought with 


him, one of them with the sheen on the nap made with 
crushed lapis-lazuli; a station bell from the Hedjaz railway; 
and on the mantelpiece a four-thousand-year-old toy, a clay 
soldier on horseback from a child’s grave at Carchemish, 
where Lawrence was digging before the war. 

We talked most about poetry. I was working at a book 
of poems which appeared later under the title of The Pier- 
Glass. They were poems that reflected my haunted condition; 
the Country Sentiment mood was breaking down. Lawrence 
made a number of suggestions for improving these poems 
and I adopted most of them. He told me of two or three of 
his schemes for brightening All Souls’ and Oxford generally. 
One was for improving the turf in the quadrangle, which he 
said was in a disgraceful condition, nearly rotting away; he 
had suggested at a college meeting that it should be manured 
or treated in some way or other, but no action had been taken. 
He now said that he was going to plant mushrooms on it, 
so that they would have to re-turf it altogether. He con- 
sulted a mushroom expert in town, but found that it was 
difficult to make spawn grow. He would have persisted if 
he had not been called away about this time to help Winston _ 
Churchill with the Middle-Eastern settlement. Another 
scheme, in which I was to have helped, was to steal the 
Magdalen College deer. He was going to drive them into 
the small inner quadrangle of All Souls’, having persuaded 
the college to reply, when Magdalen protested and asked 
for its deer back, that it was the All Souls’ herd and had 
been pastured there from time immemorial. Great things 
were expected of this raid. It fell through for the same 
reason as the other. But a successful strike of college- 
servants for better pay and hours was said to have been 
engineered by Lawrence. 



Ch. xxviii 

I took no part in undergraduate life, seldom visiting my 
college except to draw my Government grant and exhibition 
money; I refused to pay the college games’ subscription, 
having little interest in St. John’s and being unfit for games 
myself. Most of my friends were at Balliol and Queen’s, 
and in any case Wadham had a prior claim on my loyalty. 
I spent as little time as possible away from Boar’s Hill. At 
this time I had little to do with the children; they were in 
the hands of Nancy and the nurse — the nurse now also did 
the cooking and housework for us. Nancy felt that she 
wanted some activity besides drawing, though she could 
not decide what. One evening in the middle of the long 
vacation she suddenly said: ‘I must get away somewhere 
out of this for a change. Let’s go off on bicycles somewhere.’ 
We packed a few things and rode off in the general direction 
of Devonshire. The nights were coldish and^ we had not 
brought blankets. We found that the best way was to 
bicycle by night and sleep by day. We went over Salisbury 
Plain past several deserted army camps; they had a ghostly 
look. There was accommodation in these camps for a 
million men, the number of men killed in the Imperial Forces 
during the war. We found ourselves near Dorchester, so we 
turned in there to visit Thomas Hardy, whom we had met 
not long before when he came up to Oxford to get his 
honorary doctor’s degree. We found him active and gay, 
with none of the aphasia and wandering of attention that we 
had noticed in him at Oxford. 

I wrote out a record of the conversation we had with him 
He welcomed us as representatives of the post-war genera- 
tion. He said that he lived such a quiet life at Dorchester 
that he feared he was altogether behind the times. He 
wanted, for instance, to know whether we had any sympathy 



with the Bolshevik regime, and whether he could trust the 
Morning Post's account of the Red Terror. Then he was 
interested in Nancy’s hair, which she wore short, in advance 
of the fashion, and in her keeping her own name. His 
comment on the name question was: ‘Why, you are old- 
fashioned. I knew an old couple here sixty years ago that 
did the same. The woman was called Nanny Priddle (de- 
scendant of an ancient family, the Paradelles, long decayed 
into peasantry), and she would never change her name 
either.’ Then he wanted to know why I no longer used 
my army rank. I said it was because I was no longer 
soldiering. ‘But you have a right to it; I would certainly keep 
my rank if I had one. I should be very proud to be called 
Captain Hardy.’ 

He told us that he was now engaged in restoring a Norman 
font in a church near by. He had only the bowl to work 
upon, but enjoyed doing a bit of his old work again. Nancy 
mentioned that we had not baptized our children. He was 
interested, but not scandalized, remarking that his old 
mother had always said of baptism that at any rate there 
was no harm in it, and that she would not like her children 
to blame her in after-life for leaving any duty to them 
undone. ‘I have usually found that what my old mother 
said was right.’ He said that to his mind the new generation 
of clergymen were very much better men than the last. . . . 
Though he now only went to church three times a year — one 
visit to each of the three neighbouring churches — he could 
not forget that the church was in the old days the centre of 
all the musical, literary and artistic education in the country 
village. He talked about the old string orchestras in Wessex 
churches, in one of which his father, grandfather, and he 
himself had taken part; he regretted their disappearance. 


He told us that the clergyman who appears as old St. Clair 
in Tess of the D'Urbervilles was the man who protested to 
the War Office about the Sunday brass-band performances at 
the Dorchester Barracks, and was the cause of head- 
quarters no longer being sent to this once very popular 

We had tea in the drawing-room, which, like the rest of 
the house, was crowded with furniture and ornaments. 
Hardy had an affection for old possessions, and Mrs. Hardy 
was too fond to suggest that anything at all should be 
removed. Hardy, his cup of tea in hand, began making 
jokes about bishops at the Athenaeum Club and imitating 
their episcopal tones when they ordered: ‘China tea and a 
little bread and butter (Yes, my lord!).’ Apparently he con- 
sidered bishops were fair game. He was soon censuring 
Sir Edmund Gosse, who had recently stayed with them, for 
a breach of good taste in imitating his old friend, Henry 
James, eating soup. Loyalty to his friends was always a 
passion with Hardy. 

After tea we went into the garden, and Hardy asked to 
see some of my recent poems. I showed him one, and he 
asked if he might make some suggestions. He objected to 
the phrase the ‘scent of thyme,’ which he said was one of the 
clichis which the poets of his generation studied to avoid. I 
replied that they had avoided it so well that it could be used 
again now without offence, and he withdrew the objection. 
He asked whether I wrote easily, and I said that this poem 
was in its sixth draft and would probably be finished in two 
more. ‘Why!’ he said, ‘I have never in my life taken more 
than three, or perhaps four, drafts for a poem. I am afraid 
of it losing its freshness.’ He said that he had been able to 
sit down and write novels by time-table, but that poetry was 


always accidental, and perhaps it was for that reason that he 
prized it more highly. 

He spoke disparagingly of his novels, though admitting 
that there were chapters in them that he had enjoyed writing. 
We were walking round the garden, and Hardy paused at a 
spot near the greenhouse. He said that he had once been 
pruning a tree here when an idea suddenly had come into 
his head for a story, the best story that he had ever thought 
of. It came complete with characters, setting, and even some 
of the dialogue. But as he had no pencil and paper with him, 
and was anxious to finish pruning the tree before it rained, 
he had let it go. By the time he sat down to recall it, all 
was utterly gone. ‘Always carry a pencil and paper,’ he said. 
He added; ‘Of course, even if I could remember that story 
now, I couldn’t write it. I am past novel-writing. But I often 
wonder what it was.’ 

At dinner that night he grew enthusiastic in praise of 
cider, which he had drunk since a boy, and which, he said, 
was the finest medicine he knew. I suggested that in the 
Message to the American People, which he had been asked to 
write, he might take the opportunity of recommending cider. 

He began complaining of autograph-hunters and their 
persistence. He disliked leaving letters unanswered, and 
yet if he did not write these people pestered him the 
more; he had been upset that morning by a letter from an 
autograph-fiend which began: 

Dear Mr. Hardy, - 1 am interested to know why the 

devil you don’t reply to my request . . . 

He asked me for my advice, and was grateful for the 
suggestion that a mythical secretary should reply offering 


Ms autograph at one or two guineas, the amount to be sent 
to a hospital (‘Swanage Children’s Hospital,’ put in Hardy), 
which would forward a receipt. 

He said that he regarded professional critics as parasites 
no less noxious than autograph-hunters, and wished the 
world rid of them. He also wished that he had not listened 
to them when he was a young man; on their advice he had 
cut out dialect-words from his early poems, though they had 
no exact synonyms to fit the context. And still the critics 
were plaguing him. One of them recently complained of a 
poem of his where he had written ‘his shape smalled in the 
distance.’ Now what in the world else could he have written? 
Hardy then laughed a little and said that once or twice 
.recently he had looked up a word in the dictionary for fear 
of being again accused of coining, and had found it there 
right enough —only to read on and find that the sole 
authority quoted was himself in a half-forgotten novel! He 
talked of early literary influences, and said that he had none 
at all, for he did not come of literary stock. Then he corrected 
himself and said that a friend, a fellow-apprentice in the 
architect’s oflice where he worked as a young man, used to 
lend him books. (His taste in literature was certainly most 
unexpected. Once when Lawrence had ventured to say 
something disparaging against Homer’s Iliad^ he protested: 
‘Oh, but I admire the Iliad greatly. Why, it’s in the Marmion 
class!’ Lawrence could not at first believe that Hardy was 
not making a little joke.) 

We went off the next day, but there was more talk at 
breakfast before we went. Hardy was at the critics again. 
He was complaining that they accused him of pessimism. 
One man had recently singled out as an example of gloom 
a poem he had written about a woman whose house was 


burned down on Her wedding-night. ‘Of course it is a 
humorous piece,’ said Hardy, ‘and the man must have been 
thick-witted not to see that. When I read his criticism I 
went through my last collection of poems with a pencil, 
marking them S, N, and C, according as they were sad, 
neutral or cheerful. I found them as nearly as possible in 
equal proportions; which nobody could call pessimism.’ 
In his opinion vers libre could come to nothing in England. 
‘All we can do is to write on the old themes in the old styles, 
but try to do a little better than those who went before us.* 
About his own poems he said that once they were written he 
cared very little what happened to them. 

He told us of his work during the war, and said that he 
was glad to have been chairman of the Anti-Profiteering 
Committee, and to have succeeded in bringing a number of 
rascally Dorchester tradesmen to book. ‘It made me un- 
popular, of course,’ he said, ‘but it was a hundred times 
better than sitting on a military tribunal and sending young 
men to the war who did not want to go.’ 

This was the last time we saw Hardy, though we had a 
standing invitation to come and visit him. 

From Dorchester we bicycled to Tiverton in Devonshire, 
where Nancy’s old nurse kept a fancy-goods shop. Nancy 
helped her dress the shop-window and advised her about 
framing the prints that she was selling. She also gave the 
shop a good turn-out, dusted the stock, and took her turn 
behind the counter. As a result of Nancy’s work the week’s 
receipts went up several shillings and continued at the 
improved figure for a week or two after we were gone. 
This gave Nancy the idea of starting a shop herself on Boar’s 
Hill. It was a large residential district with no shop nearer 
than three miles away. She said that we should buy a second- 


hand army-hut, stock it with confectionery, groceries, 
tobacco, hardware, medicines, and all the other things that 
one finds in a village shop, run it tidily and economically 
and make our fortune. I undertook to help her while the 
vacation lasted and became quite excited about the idea 
myself. She decided to take a neighbour, the Hon. Mrs. 
Michael Howard, into partnership. Neither Nancy nor 
Mrs. Howard had any experience of shop-management or 
commercial book-keeping. But Mrs. Howard undertook to 
keep the books while Nancy did most of the other work. 
Nancy was anxious to start the shop six weeks after the 
original decision, but army huts were not obtainable at any 
reasonable price (the timber-merchants were in a ring); so 
it was decided to employ a local carpenter to build a shop to 
Nancy’s design. A neighbour rented us a corner of his field 
close to the Masefields’ house. The work was finished in 
time and the stock bought. The Daily Mirror advertised the 
opening on its front page with the heading ‘Shop-Keeping 
ON Parnassus,’ and crowds came up from Oxford to look 
at us. We soon realized that it had either to be a big general 
shop which made Boar’s Hill more or less independent of 
Oxford (and of the unsatisfactory system of vans calling at 
the door and bringing stuff of inferior quality with ‘take it 
or leave it’) or it had to be a small sweet and tobacco shop 
making no challenge to the Oxford tradesmen. We decided 
on the challenge. The building had to be enlarged and two 
or three hundred pounds’ worth of stock purchased. Mrs. 
Howard was not able to give much of her time to the work, 
having children to look after and no nurse; most of it fell on 
Nancy and myself. I used to Serve in the shop several hours 
of the day while she went round to the big houses for the 
daily orders. The term had now begun and I was supposed 


to be attending lectures in Oxford. Another caricature 
scene: myself, wearing a green-baize apron this time, with 
flushed face and disordered hair, selling a packet of Bird’s 
Eye tobacco to the Poet Laureate with one hand and with 
the other weighing out half a pound of brown sugar for 
Sir Arthur Evans’ gardener’s wife. 

The gross weekly takings were now £60 a week and 
Nancy, though she had given up her drawing, still had the 
house and children to consider. We had no car, and constant 
emergency bicycle-rides had to be made to Oxford to get 
new stock from the wholesalers; we made a point of always 
being able to supply whatever was asked for. We engaged 
a shop-boy to call for orders, but the work was still too heavy. 
Mrs. Howard went out of partnership and Nancy and I found 
great difficulty in understanding her accounts. I was fairly 
good at conventional book-keeping; the keeping of company 
accounts had been part of my lecture-syllabus when I was 
instructing cadets. But that did not help me with these, 
which were on a novel system. 

The shop business finally ousted everything, not only 
Nancy’s painting, but my writing, my university work, and 
Nancy’s proper supervision of the house and children. We 
had the custom of every resident of Boar’s Hill but two 
or three. One of those whom we courted unsuccessfully was 
Mrs. Masefield. The proximity of the shop to her house 
did not please her. And her housekeeper, she said, preferred 
to deal with a provision merchant in Oxford and she could 
not override this arrangement. However, to show that there 
was no ill-feeling, she used to come once a week to the shop 
and buy a tin of Vim and a packet of Lux, for which she paid 
money down from a cash-box which she carried with her. 
The moral problems of trade interested me. Nancy and I 

Ch. xxviii 


both found that it was very difficult at this time of fluctuating 
prices to be really honest; we could not resist the temptation 
of undercharging the poor villagers of Wootton, who were 
frequent customers, and recovering our money from the 
richer residents. Placing at Robin Hood came easily to me. 
Nobody ever caught us out; it was as easy as shelling peas, 
the shop-boy said, who also took his turn behind the 
counter. We found that most people bought tea by price and 
not by quality. If we happened to be out of the tea selling 
at ninepence a quarter which Mrs. So-and-so always 
bought, refusing the eightpenny tea, and Mrs. So-and-so 
asked for it in a hurry, the only thing to do was to make up 
a pound of the sevenpenny, which was the same colour as 
the ninepenny, and charge it at ninepence; the difference 
would not be noticed. We were sorry for the commercial 
travellers who came sweating up the hill with their heavy 
bags of samples, usually on foot, and had to be sent away 
without any orders. They would pitch a hard-luck tale and 
often we would relent and get in more stock than we needed. 
In gratitude they would tell us some of the tricks of the trade, 
advising us, for instance, never to cut cheese or bacon 
exactly to weight, but to make it an ounce or two more and 
overcWge for this extra piece. ‘There’s few can do the 
sum before you take the stuff off the scales and there’s fewer 
still who will take the trouble to weigh up again when they 
get back home.’ 

The shop lasted six months, Nancy suddenly dismissed 
the nurse. Nancy had always practised the most up-to-date 
methods of training and feeding children, and the nurse, 
over-devoted to the children, had recently disobeyed her 
instructions. Nancy put the children before everything. 
She decided that there was nothing to be done but to take 


them and the house over herself, and to find a manager for 
the shop. At this point I caught influenza and took a long 
time to recover from it. 

War horror overcame me again. The political situation 
in Europe seemed to be going from bad to worse. There was 
already trouble in Ireland, Russia and the Near East. The 
papers promised new and deadlier poison gases for the next 
war. There was a rumour that Lord Berkeley’s house on 
Boar’s Hill was to become an experimental laboratory for 
making them. I had bad nights. I thought that perhaps I 
owed it to Nancy to go to a psychiatrist to be cured; yet I was 
not sure. Somehow I thought that the power of writing 
poetry, which was more important to me than anything else 
I did, would disappear if I allowed myself to get cured; my 
Pier-Glass haunting would end and I would become merely 
a dull easy writer. It seemed to me less important to be well 
than to be a good poet. I also had a strong repugnance against 
allowing anyone to have the power over me that psychiatrists 
always seemed to win over their patients. I had always 
refused to allow myself to be hypnotized by anyone in any 

I decided to see as few people as possible, stop all outside 
work, and cure myself. I would read the modern psycho- 
logical books and apply them to my case. I had already 
learned the rudiments of morbid psychology from talks 
with Rivers, and from his colleague. Dr. Henry Head, the 
neurologist, under whose care Robert Nichols had been. 
I liked Head’s scientific integrity. Once when he was testing 
a man whom he suspected of homicidal mania he had made 
some suggestion to him which came within the danger-area 
of his insanity; the man picked up a heavy knife from his 
consulting table and rushed threateningly at Head. Head, 

Ch. xxvm 


not at all quick on his legs and dodging round the table, 
exclaimed: ‘Typical, typical! Capital, capital!’ and, only as 
an afterthought: ‘Help! Help!’ He had great knowledge of 
the geography of the brain and the peculiar delusions and 
maladjustments that followed lesions in the different parts. 
He told me, at different times, exactly what was wrong with 
Mr. Jingle in Pickwick Papers^ why some otherwise literate 
people found it impossible to spell, and why some others saw 
ghosts standing by their bedside. He said about the bedside 
ghosts: ‘They always come to the same side of the bed, and if 
you turn the bed round you turn the ghost round with it. 
They come to the contrary side of the lesion.’ 

A manager was found for the shop. But as soon as it 
was known that Nancy and I were no longer behind the 
counter the weekly receipts immediately began to fall; they 
were soon down to ;^20, and still falling steadily. The 
manager’s salary was more than our profits. Prices were now 
falling, too, at the rate of about five per cent, every week, 
so that the stock on our shelves had depreciated greatly in 
value. And we had let one or two of the Wootton villagers 
run up bad debts. When we came to reckon things up we 
realized that it was wisest to cut the losses and sell out. 
We hoped to recoup our original expenditure and even to 
be in pocket on the whole transaction by selling the shop 
and the goodwill to a big firm of Oxford grocers that wished 
to buy it as a branch establishment. Unfortunately, the site 
was not ours and the landlord was prevailed upon by an 
interested neighboxxr not to let any ordinary business firm 
take over the shop from us and spoil the local amenities. 
No other site was available, so there was nothing to do but 
sell off what stock remained at bankrupt prices to the whole- 
salers and find a buyer for the building. Unfortxinately 


again, the building was not made in bolted sections, and 
could not be sold to be put up again elsewhere; its only 
value was as timber, and in these six months the corner in 
timber had also been broken and the prices fallen to very 
little. We recovered twenty pounds of the two hundred 
that had been spent on it. Nancy and I were so disgusted 
that we decided to leave Boar’s Hill. We were about five 
hundred pounds in debt to the wholesalers and others. A 
lawyer took the whole matter in hand, disposed of our assets 
for us, and the debt was finally reduced to about three hundred 
pounds. Nancy’s father sent her a hundred-pound note (in 
a match-box) as his contribution, and the remainder was 
unexpectedly contributed by Lawrence. He gave me four 
chapters of Seven 'Pillars of Wisdom^ his history of the Arab 
revolt, to sell for serial publication in the United States. 
It was a point of honour with him not to make any money 
out of the revolt even in the most indirect way; but if it 
could help a poet in difficulties, there seemed no harm in that. 

We gave the Masefields notice that we were leaving the 
cottage at the end of the Jxme quarter 1921. We had no idea 
where we were going or what we were going to do. We 
decided that we must get another cottage somewhere and 
live very quietly, looking after the children ourselves, and 
that we must try to make what money we needed by writing 
and drawing. Nancy, who had taken charge of everything 
when I was ill, now gave me the task of finding a cottage. 
It had to be found in about three weeks’ time. I said: ‘But 
you know that there are no cottages anywhere to be had.’ 
She said: ‘I know, but we are going to get one.’ I said 
ironically: ‘Describe it in detail; since there are no cottages 
we might as well have a no-cottage that we really like.’ She 
said: ‘Well, it must have six rooms, water in the house, a 

Ch. xxviii 


beamed attic, a walled-in garden, and it must be near the 
river. It must be in a village with shops and yet a little 
removed from the village. The village must be five or six 
miles from Oxford in the opposite direction from Boar’s 
Hill. The church must have a tower and not a spire. And 
we can only afford ten shillings a week unfurnished.’ There 
were other details that I took down about soil, sanitation, 
windows, stairs and kitchen sinks, and then I went off on 
my bicycle. I had first laid a ruler across the Oxford 
ordnance-map and found four or five villages that corres- 
ponded in general direction and distance and were on the 
river. By inquiry I found that two had shops; that, of these 
two, one had a towered church and the other a spired church. 
I therefore went to a firm of house-agents in Oxford and 
said: ‘Have you any cottages to let unfurnished.?’ The house- 
agent laughed politely. So I said: ‘What I want is a cottage 
at Islip with a walled garden, six rooms, water in the house, 
just outside the village, with a beamed attic, and rent ten 
shillings a week.’ The house-agent said: ‘Oh, you mean the 
World’s End Cottage? But that is for sale, not for renting. 
It has failed to find a purchaser for two years, and I think 
that the owner will let it go now at five hundred pounds, 
which is only half what he originally asked.’ So I went back 
and next day Nancy came with me; she looked round and 
said: ‘Yes, this is the cottage all right, but I shall have to 
cut down those cypress trees and change those window-panes. 
We’ll move in on quarter-day.’ I said: ‘But the money! We 
haven’t the money.’ Nancy answered: ‘If we could find the 
exact house, surely to goodness we can find a mere lump sum 
of money.’ She was right, for my mother was good enough 
to buy the cottage and rent it to us at the rate of ten shillings 
a week. 


Islip was a name of good omen to me: it was associated 
with Abbot Islip, a poor boy of the village who had become 
Abbot of Westminster and befriended John Skelton when 
he took sanctuary in the Abbey from the anger of Wolsey. 
I had come more and more to associate myself with Skelton, 
discovering a curious affinity. Whenever I wanted a motto 
for a new book I always found exactly the right one some- 
where or other in Skelton’s poems. We moved into the Islip 
cottage and a new chapter started. I did not sit for my finals. 



We were at IsHp from 1921 until 1925. My mother in 
renting us the house had put a clause in the agreement that 
it was to be used only as a residence and not for the carrying 
on of any trade or business. She wanted to guard against 
any further commercial enterprise on our part; she need not 
have worried. Islip was an agricultural village, and far 
enough from Oxford not to be contaminated with the roguery 
for which the outskirts of a university town are usually 
well known. The village policeman led an easy life. During 
the whole time we were living there we never had a thing 
stolen or ever had a complaint to make against a native 
Islip cottager. Once by mistake I left my bicycle at the 
station for two days, and, when I recovered it, not only were 
both lamps, the piunp and the repair outfit still in place, but 
an anonymous friend had even cleaned it. 

Every Saturday in the winter months, as long as I was at 
Islip, I played football for the village team. There had been 
no football in Islip for some eighty years; the ex-soldiers had 
reintroduced it. The village nonogenarian complained that 
the game was not what it had been when he was a boy; he 
called it unmanly. He pointed across the fields to two aged 
willow trees: ‘They used to be our home goals,’ he said. 
‘T’other pair was half a mile upstream. Constable stopped 
our play in the end. Three men were killed in one game; 
one was kicked to death, t’other two drowned each other in 
a scrimmage. Her was a grand game.’ Islip football, though 
not unmanly, was ladylike by comparison with the game as 
I had played it at Charterhouse. When playing centre- 
forward I was often booed now for charging the goalkeeper 
while he was fumbling with the shot he had saved. The 



cheers were reserved for my inside-left, who spent most of 
his time stylishly dribbling the ball in circles round and 
round the field until he was robbed; he seldom went any- 
where near the goal-mouth. The football club was demo- 
cratic. The cricket club was not. I played cricket the first 
season but left the club because the selection of the team 
was not always a selection of the best eleven men; regular 
players would be dropped to make room for visitors to the 
village who were friends of a club official, one of the 

At first we had so little money that we did all the work 
in the house ourselves, including the washing. I did the 
cooking, Nancy did the mending and making the children’s 
clothes; we shared the rest of the work. Later money 
improved: we found it more economical to send the washing 
out and get a neighbour in to do some of the heavier cleaning 
and scrubbing. In our last year at Islip we even had a 
decrepit car which Nancy drove. My part was to wind it 
up; the energy that I put into winding was almost equivalent 
to pushing it for a mile or two. The friends who gave it to 
us told us that its name was ‘Dr. Marie,’ and when we asked 
‘Why?’ we were told ‘Because it’s all right in theory.’ One 
day when Nancy was driving down Foxcombe Hill, the 
steepest hill near Oxford, there was a slight jar. Nancy 
thought it advisable to stop; when we got out we found that 
there were only three wheels on the car. The other, with 
part of the axle, was retrieved nearly a mile back. 

These four years I spent chiefly on housework and being 
nurse to the children. Catherine was born in 1922 and Sam 
in 1 924. By the end of 1 925 we had lived for eight successive 
years in an atmosphere of teething, minor accidents, epi- 
demics, and perpetual washing of children’s napkins. I did 


not dislike this sort of life except for the money difficulties. 
I liked my life with the children. But the strain told on 
Nancy. She was constantly ill, and often I had to take charge 
of everything. She tried occasionally to draw; but by the 
time she had got her materials together some alarm from 
the nursery would always disturb her. She said at last that 
she would not start again until all the children were house- 
trained and old enough for school. I kept on writing because 
the responsibility for making money rested chiefly on me, 
and because nothing has ever stopped me writing when 
I have had something to write. We kept the cottage cleaned 
and polished in a routine that left us little time for anything 
else. We had accumulated a number of brass ornaments 
and utensils and allowed them to become a tyranny, and 
our children wore five times as many clean dresses as our 
neighbours’ children did. 

I found that I had the faculty of working through constant 
interruptions. I could recognize the principal varieties of 
babies’ screams - hunger, indigestion, wetness, pins, bore- 
dom, wanting to be played with - and learned to disregard 
all but the more important ones. But most of the books 
that I wrote in these years betray the conditions under which 
I worked; they are scrappy, not properly considered and 
obviously written out of reach of a proper reference-library. 
Only poetry did not suffer. When I was working at a poem 
nothing else mattered; I went on doing my mechanical 
tasks in a trance until I had time to sit down to write it out. 
At one period I only allowed myself half an hour’s writing 
a day, but once I did write I always had too much to put 
down; I never sat chewing my pen. My poetry-writing has 
always been a painful process of continual corrections and 
corrections on top of corrections and persistent dissatisfac- 


tion. I have never written a poem in less than three drafts; 
the greatest number I recall is thirty-five (^he TroWs Nose- 
gay). The average at this time was eight; it is now six or 

The children were all healthy and gave us little trouble. 
Nancy had strong views about giving them no meat or tea, 
putting them to bed early, making them rest in the afternoon 
and giving them as much fruit as they wanted. We did our 
best to keep them from the mistakes of our own childhood. 
But it was impossible for them when they went to the 
village school to avoid formal religion, class snobbery, 
political prejudice, and mystifying fairy stories about the 
facts of sex. I never felt any possessive feeling about them 
as Nancy did. To me they were close friends with the claims 
of friendship and liable to the accidents of friendship. We 
both made a point of punishing them in a disciplinary way 
as little as possible. If we lost our temper with them it was 
a different matter. Islip was as good a place as any for the 
happy child h ood that we wanted to give them. The river 
was close and we had the loan of a canoe. There were fields 
to play about in, and animals, and plenty of children of their 
own age. They liked school. 

After so much shifting about during the war I disliked 
leaving home, except to visit some well-ordered house where 
I could expect reasonable comfort. But Nancy was always 
proposing sudden ‘bursts for freedom,’ and I used to come 
with her and usually enjoy them. In 1922 we used a derelict 
baker’s van for a caravan ride down to the south-coast. We 
had three children with us, Catherine as a four-months-old 
baby. It rained every single day for the month we were 
away - and the problem of washing and drying the baby’s 
napkins whenever we camped for the night — and the problem 


of finding a farmer who would not mistake us for gypsies 
and would be willing to let us pull into his field — and then 
the shaft that twice dropped off when we were on hills - and 
twice the back of the cart flew open and a child fell out on 
the road - and the difficulty of getting oats for the horse 
(which had been five years on grass as being too old for 
work) on country roads organized for motor traffic -and 
cooking to be done in the open with usually a high wind 
and always rain and the primus stove sputtering and flaring 
up. It was near Lewes that we drew up on a strip of public 
land alongside the horse and van of a Mr. Hicks, a travelling 
showman from Brighton. He told us many tricks of the 
road and also the story of his life: ‘Yes, I saw the Reverend 
Powers, Cantab, of Rodmell last week, and he, knowing my 
history, said: “Well, Mr. Hicks, I suppose that in addressing 
you I should be right in putting the letters b.a. after your 
name.?” I said: “I have the right to it certainly, but when a 
man’s down, you know how it is, he does not like attaching 
a handle to his name.” For you must know, I was once a 
master at Ardingly College.’ 

‘Indeed, Mr. Hicks, and where were you b.a..?’ 

‘Didn’t I just tell you, at Ardingly? I won a scholarship 
at the beginning and they gave me the choice of going to 
Oxford or Winchester or Cambridge or Eton. And I 
chose Winchester. But I was only there a twelvemonth. 
No, I couldn’t stand it any longer owing to the disgraceful 
corruption of the junior clergy and the undergraduates - 
you understand, of course. I rub up a bit of the classic now 
and then, but I like to forget those times. The other day, 
though, me and a young Jew-boy who had cleaned up seventy- 
five pounds at the race meeting with photographing and one 
thing and another, had a fine lark. I got out two old mortar- 


boards and a couple of gowns from the box in the van where 
I keep them, and you should have seen us swaggering down 
Brighton Pier, my boy.’ A few days later we stopped at a 
large mansion in Hampshire, rented by Sir Lionel Philips, 
the South African financier, whom Nancy knew. I found 
myself in an argument with him about socialist economics, 
and he told me a story which I liked even better than Mr. 
Hicks’. *I visited Kimberley recently and realized what a 
deep hole I had made. Where, as a young man, I tore the 
first turf off with my bare hands, they were now mining 
down half a mile.’ 

In the end we got back safely. 

I was so busy that I had no time to be ill myself. Nancy 
begged me not to talk about the war in her hearing, and I 
was ready to forget about it. The villagers called me ‘The 
Captain,’ otherwise I had few reminders except my yearly 
visit to the standing medical board. The board continued 
for some years to recommend me for a disability pension. 
The particular disability was neurasthenia; the train journey 
and the army railway-warrant filled out with my rank and 
regiment usually produced reminiscential neurasthenia by 
the time I reached the board. The award was at last made 
permanent at forty-two pounds a year. Ex-service men were 
continually coming to the door selling boot-laces and asking 
for cast-off shirts and socks. We always gave them a cup of 
tea and money. Islip was a convenient halt between the 
Chipping Norton and the Oxford workhouses. One day an 
out-of-work ex-service man, a steam-roller driver by trade, 
came calling with his three children, one of them a baby. 
Their mother had recently died in childbirth. We felt very 
sorry for them and Nancy offered to adopt the eldest child, 
Daisy, who was about thirteen years old and her father’s 


greatest anxiety. She undertook to train Daisy in housework 
so that she would be able later to go into service. Daisy was 
still of school age. Her father shed tears of gratitude, and 
Daisy seemed happy enough to be a member of the family. 
Nancy made her new clothes - we cleaned her, bought her 
shoes, and gave her a bedroom to herself. Daisy was not a 
success. She was a big ugly girl, strong as a horse and 
toughened by her three years on the roads. Her father was 
most anxious for her to continue her education, which had 
been interrupted by their wanderings. But Daisy hated 
school; she was put in the baby class and the girls of her own 
age used to tease her. In return she pulled their hair and 
thumped them, so they sent her to Coventry. After a while 
she grew homesick for the road. ‘That was a good life,’ she 
used to say. ‘Dad and me and my brother and the baby. The 
baby was a blessing. When I fetched him along to the back 
doors I nearly always won something. ’Course, I was artful. 
If they tried to slam the door in my face I used to put my 
foot in it and say: “This is my little orphan brother.” Then 
I used to look round and anything I seen I used to ast for. 
I used to ast for a pram for the baby, if I seen an old one in 
a shed; and I’d get it, too. Of course we had a pram really, 
a good one, and then we’d sell the pram I’d won, in the next 
town we come to. Good beggars always ast for something 
particlar, something they seen lying about. It’s no good 
asking for food or money. I used to pick up a lot for my dad. 
I was a better beggar nor he was, he said. We used to go 
along together singing On the Road to Anywhere. And there 
was always the Spikes to go to when the weather was bad. 
The Spike at Chippy Norton was our winter home. They 
was very good to us there. We used to go to the movies 
once a week. The grub was good at Chippy Norton. We 


been all over the country, Wales and Devonshire, right up to 
Scotland, but we always come back to Chippy.’ Nancy and 
I were shocked one day when a tramp came to the door and 
Daisy slammed the door in his face and told him to clear 
out of it. Nosey, and not to poke his ugly mug into respect- 
able people’s houses. ‘I know you, Nosey Williams,’ she 
said, ‘you 3ud your ex-service papers what you pinched from 
a bloke down in Salisbury, and the bigamy charge against 
you a-waiting down at Plymouth. Hop it now, quick, or I’ll 
run for the cop.’ Daisy told us the true histories of many of the 
beggars we had befriended. She said: ‘There’s not one 
decent man in ten among them bums. My dad’s the only 
decent one of the lot. The reason most of them is on the 
road is the cops have something against them, so they has 
to keep moving. Of course my dad don’t like the life; he 
took to it too late in life. And my mother was very respect- 
able too. She kept us clean. Most of those bums is lousy, 
with nasty diseases, and they keeps out of the Spike as much 
as they can ’cause they don’t like the carbolic baths.’ Daisy 
was with us for a whole winter. When the spring came and 
the roads dried her father called for her again. He couldn’t 
manage the little ones without her he said. That was the 
last we saw of Daisy, though she wrote to us once from 
Chipping Norton asking us for money. 

My pension was our only certain source of income, 
neither of us having any private means of our own. The 
Government grant and college exhibition had ended at the 
time we moved to Islip. I never made more at this time than 
thirty pounds a year from my books of poetry and anthology 
fees, with an occasional couple of guineas for poems con- 
tributed to periodicals. There was another sixteen pounds a 
year from the rent of the Harlech cottage and an odd guinea 


or two from reviewing. My volumes of poetry did not sell. 
Fairies and Fusiliers had gone into two editions because it was 
published in the war-years when people were reading poetry 
as they had not done for many years. The inclusion of my 
work in Edward Marsh’s Georgian Poetry had made my 
name well known, but after 1919, when the series ended, it 
was forgotten again. Country Sentiment was hardly noticed; 
the Pier-Glass was also a failure. They were published by 
Martin Seeker, not by Heinemann who had published 
Fairies and Faw/im — William Heinemann, just before he 
died, had tried to teach me how poetry should be written 
and I resented it. These three books had been published in 
America, where my name was known since John Masefield, 
Robert Nichols and, finally, Siegfried Sassoon had gone 
to lecture about modern English poetry. But English poets 
slumped, and it was eight years before another book of my 
poems could find a publisher in America. In these days I 
used to take the reviews of my poetry-books seriously. I 
reckoned their eflFect on sales and so on the grocery bills. 
I still believed that it was possible to write poetry that was 
true poetry and yet could reach, say, a three or four thousand- 
copy sale. I expected some such success. I consorted with 
other poets and had a fellow-feeling for them. Beside Hardy, 
Siegfried, and the Boar’s Hill residents, I knew Delamare, 
W. H. Davies, T. S. Eliot, the Sitwells and many more. I 
liked W. H. Davies because he was from South Wales and 
afraid of the dark, and because once, I heard, he made out a 
list of poets and crossed them off one by one as he decided 
that they were not true poets - until only two names were 
left. I approved the final choice. Delamare I liked too. He 
was gentle and I could see how hard he worked at his 
poems — I was always interested in the writing-technique of 


my contemporaries. I once told him what hours of worry 
he must have had over the lines: 

Ah, no man knows 

Through what wild centuries 

Roves back the rose; 

and how, in the end, he had been dissatisfied. He admitted 
that he had been forced to leave the assonance ‘Roves and 
rose,’ because no synonym for ‘roves’ was strong enough. 
I seldom saw Osbert and Sacheverell Sitwell after the war- 
years. When I did I always felt uncomfortably rustic in 
their society. Once Osbert sent me a present of a brace of 
grouse. They came from his country residence in Derby- 
shire in a bag labelled: ‘With Captain Sitwell’s compliments 
to Captain Graves.’ Nancy and I could neither of us face 
the task of plucking and gutting and roasting the birds, so 
we gave them to a neighbour. I thanked Osbert: ‘Captain 
Graves acknowledges with thanks Captain Sitwell’s gift of 
Captain Grouse.’ 

Our total income, counting birthday and Christmas 
cheques from relatives, was about one hundred and thirty 
pounds a year. As Nancy reminded me, this was about 
fifty shillings a week and there were farm labourers at Islip, 
with more children than we had, who only got thirty shillings 
a week. They had a much harder time than we did earning it 
and had no one to fall back on, as we had, in case of sudden 
illness or other emergency. We used to get free holidays, 
too, at Harlech, when my mother would insist on paying 
the train-fare as well as giving us our board free. We really 
had nothing to complain about. Thinking how difiicult life 
was for the labourers’ wives kept Nancy permanently 


depressed. I have omitted to mention a further source of 
income - the Rupert Brooke Fund, of which Edward Marsh 
was the administrator. Rupert Brooke had stated in his 
will that all royalties accruing from any published work of 
his should be divided among needy poets with families to 
support. When money was very short we would dip into 
this bag. 

We still called ourselves socialists, but had become dis- 
satisfied with Parliamentary socialism. We had greater 
sympathy with communism, though not members of the 
Communist Party. None the less, when a branch of the 
Parliamentary Labour Party was formed in the village, we 
gave the use of the cottage for its weekly meetings through- 
out the winter months. Islip was a rich agricultural area; 
but with a reputation for slut-farming. It did not pay the 
tenant farmers to farm too well. Mr. Wise, one of our 
members, once heckled a speaker in the Conservative 
interest about a protective duty imposed by the Conservative 
Government on dried currants. The speaker answered 
patronizingly: Well, surely a duty on Greek currants won*t 
hurt you working men here at Islip.? You don’t grow 
currants in these parts, do you.?’ ‘No, sir,’ replied Mr Wise, 
‘the farmers main crop hereabouts is squitch.’ 

I was persuaded to stand for the parish council, and was 
a member for a year. I wish I had taken records of the 
smothered antagonism of the council meetings. There were 
seven members of the council, with three representatives of 
labour and three representatives of the farmers and gentry; 
the chairman was a farmer, a Liberal who had Labour 
support as being a generous employer and the only farmer in 
the neighbourhood who had had a training at an agricultural 
college. He held the balance very fairly. We contended 


p, 398, line ly ft seq. 

Since this paragraph was printed, I have heard from Mr. 
Marsh that the facts are not quite as I have stated them, and 
that there is not really any Rupert Brooke F und ’’ administered 
by Mr. Marsh. I much regret this error which arose from an 
imperfect recollection, r. g. 





over a proposed application to the district council for the 
building of new cottages. Many returned ex-soldiers who 
wished to marry had nowhere to live with their wives. The 
Conservative members opposed this because it would mean 
a penny on the rates. Then there was the question of pro- 
curing a recreation ground for the village. The football 
team did not wish to be dependent on the generosity of one 
of the big farmers who rented it to us at a nominal rate. The 
Conservatives opposed this again in the interest of the rates, 
and pointed out that shortly after the Armistice the village 
had turned down a recreation ground scheme, preferring to 
spend the memorial subscription money on a cenotaph. 
The Labour members pointed out that the vote was taken, 
as at the 1918 General Election, before the soldiers had 
returned to express their view. Nasty innuendoes were made 
about farmers who had stayed at home and made their pile, 
while their labourers fought and bled. The chairman calmed 
the antagonists. Another caricature scene: myself in cordu- 
roys and a rough frieze coat, sitting in the village school- 
room (this time with no ‘evils of alcoholism’ around the wall, 
but with nature-drawings and mounted natural history speci- 
mens to take their place), debating as an Oxfordshire village 
elder whether or not Farmer So-and-so was justified in using 
a footpath across the allotments as a bridle-path, disregarding 
the decayed stile which, I urged, disproved his right. 

My association with the Labour Party severed my relations 
with the village gentry with whom, when I first came to the 
village, I had been on friendly terms. My mother had been 
to the trouble of calling on the rector when she viewed the 
property. I had even been asked by the rector to speak from 
the chancel steps of the village church at a war memorial 
service. He suggested that I should read poems about the 

j98 good-bye to all THAT CLxxix 

war. Instead of Rupert Brooke on the glorious dead, I read 
some of the more painful poems of Sassoon and Wilfred 
Owen about men dying of gas-poisoning and about buttocks 
of corpses bulging from the mud. And I suggested that 
the men who had fallen, destroyed as it were by the fall of 
the Tower of Siloam, had not been particularly virtuous or 
particularly wicked, but just average soldiers, and that the 
survivors should thank God that they were alive and do their 
best to avoid wars in the future. The church-party, with 
the exception of the rector, an intelligent man, was scandal- 
ized. But the ex-service men had not been too well treated 
on their return and it pleased them to be reminded that they 
were on equal terms with the glorious dead. They were 
modest men: I noticed that though obeying the King’s 
desire to wear their campaigning medals, they kept them 
buttoned up inside their coats. 

The leading Labour man of the village was William 
Beckley, senior. He had an inherited title dating from the 
time of Cromwell: he was known as ‘Fisher’ Beckley. A 
direct ancestor had been fishing on the Cherwell during the 
siege of Oxford, and had ferried Cromwell himself and a 
body of Parliamentary troops over the river. In return 
Cromwell had given him perpetual fishing-rights from Islip 
to the stretch of river where the Cherwell Hotel now stands. 
The cavalry skirmish at Islip bridge still remained in local 
tradition, and a cottager at the top of the hill showed me a 
small stone cannon-ball, fired on that occasion, that he had 
found sticking in his chimney-stack. But even Cromwell 
came late in the history of the Beckley family; the Beckleys 
were watermen on the river long before the seventeenth 
century. Indeed Fisher Beckley knew, by family tradition, 
Jhe exact spot where a barge was sunk conveying stone for 


the building of Westminster Abbey. Islip was the birthplace 
of Edward the Confessor, and the Islip lands had been given 
by him to the Abbey; it was still Abbey property after a 
thousand years. The Abbey stone had been quarried from 
the side of the hill close to the river; our cottage was on the 
old slip-way down which the stone-barges had been launched. 
Some time in the ’seventies American weed was introduced 
into the river and made netting difficult; fishing finally 
became unprofitable. Fisher Beckley had been for many 
years now an agricultural labourer. His socialist views pre- 
vented him from getting employment in the village, so he 
had to trudge to work to a farm some miles out. But he was 
still Fisher Beckley and, among us cottagers, the most 
respected man in Islip. 


My parents were most disappointed when I failed to sit for 
my Oxford finals. But through the kindness of Sir Walter 
Raleigh, the head of the English School, I was excused finals 
as I had been excused everything else, and allowed to proceed 
to the later degree of Bachelor of Letters. Instead of 
estimating, at the examiners’ request, the effect of the 
influence of Dryden on pastoral poets of the early eighteenth 
century, or tracing the development of the sub-plot in 
Elizabethan comedies between the years 1583 and I 5 ' 94 , 
I was allowed to offer a written thesis on a subject of my own 
choice. Sir Walter Raleigh was a good friend to me. He 
agreed to be my tutor on condition that he should not be 
expected to tutor me. He liked my poetry, and suggested 
that we should only meet as friends. He was engaged at the 
time on the official history of the war in the air and found 
it necessary to have practical flying experience for the task. 
The R.A.F. took him up as often as he needed. It was on a 
flight out East that he got typhoid fever and died. I was 
so saddened by his death that it was some time before 
I thought again about my thesis, and I did not apply for 
another tutor. The subject I had offered was The Illogical 
Element in English Poetry. I had already written a prose 
book. On English Poetry^ a series of ‘workshop notes’ about 
the writing of poetry. It contained much trivial but also 
much practical material, and emphasized the impossibility 
of writing poetry of ‘universal appeal.’ I regarded poetry 
as, first, a personal cathartic for the poet suffering from 
some inner conflict, and then as a cathartic for readers 
in a similar conflict. I made a tentative connection between 
poetry and dream in the light of the dream-psychology 


in which I was then interested as a means of curing 

The thesis did not work out like a thesis. I found it 
difficult to keep to an academic style and decided to write 
it as if it were an ordinary book. Anyhow, I could expect 
no knowledge of or sympathy with modern psychology from 
the literature committee that would read it. I rewrote it 
in all nine times, and it was unsatisfactory when finished. 
I was trying to show the nature of the supra-logical element 
in poetry. It was only, I wrote, to be fully understood by 
close analysis of the latent associations of the words used; 
the obvious prose meaning was often in direct opposition to 
the latent content. The weakness of the book lay in its not 
clearly distinguishing between the supra-logical thought- 
processes of poetry and of pathology. Before it appeared I 
had published The Meaning of Dreams, which was intended to 
be a popular shillingsworth for the railway bookstall; but I 
went to the wrong publisher and he issued it at five shillings. 
Being too simply written for the informed public, and too 
expensive for the ignorant public to which it was addressed, 
it fell flat; as indeed it deserved. I published a volume of 
poems every year between 1920 and 1925; after The Pier- 
Glass, published in 1921, I made no attempt to write for 
the ordinary reading public, and no longer regarded my 
work as being of public utility. I did not even flatter 
myself that I was conferring benefits on posterity; there was 
no reason to suppose that posterity would be more apprecia- 
tive than my contemporaries. I only wrote when and because 
there was a poem pressing to be written. Though I assumed 
a reader of intelligence and sensibility and considered his 
possible reactions to what I wrote, I no longer identified 
him with contemporary readers or critics of poetry. He was 



no more real a person than the conventional figure put in the 
foreground of an architectural design to indicate the size of 
the building. As a result of this greater strictness of writing 
I was soon accused of trying to get publicity and increase 
my sales by a wilful clowning modernism. Of these books, 
JVhifferginny, published in 1923, showed the first signs of 
my new psychological studies. 

Mock-Beggar Hall, published in 1924, was almost wholly 
philosophical. As Lawrence wrote to me when I sent it to 
hirrij it was ‘not the sort of book that one would put under 
one’s pillow at night.’ This philosophic interest was a result 
of my meeting with Basanta Mallik, when I was reading a 
paper to an undergraduate society. One of the results of my 
education was a strong prejudice, amounting to contempt, 
against anyone of non-European race; the Jews, though with 
certain exceptions such as Siegfried, were included in this 
prejudice. But I had none of my usual feelings with Basanta. 
He did not behave as a member of a subject-race — neither 
with excessive admiration nor with excessive hatred of all 
things English. Though he was a Bengali he was not given 
to flattery or insolence. I found on inquiry that he belonged 
to a family of high caste. His father had become converted 
to Christianity and signalized his freedom from Hindu 
superstition by changing his diet; meat and alcohol, un- 
touched by his ancestors for some two thousand years, soon 
brought about his death. Basanta had been brought up in 
the care of a still unconverted grandmother, but did not 
have the strict Hindu education that the boy of caste is given 
by his male relatives. He was sent to Calcutta University 
and, some years before the war, after taking a law degree, 
was given the post of assistant tutor to the children of the 
Maharajah of Nepal. In Nepal he came to the notice of the 


Maharajah as one of the few members of the Court not 
concerned in a plot against his life, and was promoted to 
chief tutor. 

The relations between Nepal and India were strained at 
this time. Basanta was the only man in Nepal with an 
up-to-date knowledge of international law. His advice 
ultimately enabled the Maharajah to induce the British to 
sign the 1923 treaty recognizing the complete independence 
of the country, which had for many years been threatened 
with British protection. Under the terms of this treaty, no 
foreigners might enter Nepal except at the personal invitation 
of the Maharajah. The Maharajah had sent Basanta over 
to England to study British political psychology; this 
knowledge might be useful in the event of future mis- 
understandings between Nepal and India. He had now been 
some eleven years in Oxford but, becoming a philosopher 
and making many friends, had overcome his long-standing 
grudge against the British. 

Basanta used to come out to Islip frequently to talk 
philosophy with us. With him came Sam Harries, a young 
Balliol scholar, who soon became our closest friend. Meta- 
physics soon made psychology of secondary interest for me: 
it threatened almost to displace poetry. Basanta’s philosophy 
was a development of formal metaphysics, but with char- 
acteristically Indian insistence on ethics. He believed in no 
hierarchy of ultimate values or the possibility of any unifying 
religion or ideology. But at the same time he insisted on the 
necessity of strict self-discipline in the individual in meeting 
every possible demand made upon him from whatever 
quarter, and he recommended constant self-watchfulness 
against either dominating or being dominated by any other 
individual. This view of strict personal morality consistent 

Ch. XXX 


■with scepticism of social morality agreed very well with my 
practice. He returned to India in 1923 and considered 
taking an appointment in Nepal, but decided that to do so 
would put him in a position incompatible with his philo- 
sophy. He would have returned to Oxford but a friend had 
died, leaving him to support a typical large Hindu family 
of aunts and cousins remotely related. We missed Basanta’s 
visits, but Sam Harries used to come out regularly. Sam 
was a communist, an atheist, enthusiastic about pro- 
fessional football (Aston Vilk was his favourite team) 
and experimental films, and most puritanical in matters 
of sex. 

Other friends were not numerous. Edith Sitwell was one 
of them. It was a surprise, after reading her poems, to find 
her gentle, domesticated, and even devout. When she came 
to stay with us she spent her time sitting on the sofa and 
hemming handkerchiefs. She used to write to Nancy and 
me frequently, but 1926 ended the friendship. 1926 was 
yesterday, when the autobiographical part of my life was 
fast approaching its end. I saw no more of any of my army 
friends, with the exception of Siegfried, and meetings with 
him were now only about once a year. Edmund Blunden 
had gone as professor of English Literature to Tokyo. 
Lawrence was now in the Royal Tank Corps. He had enlisted 
in the Royal Air Force when he came to the end of things 
after the Middle-Eastern settlement of 1921, but had 
been forced to leave it when a notice was given of a question 
in the House about his presence there under an assumed 
name. When Sir Walter Raleigh died I felt my connection 
■with Oxford University -was broken, and when Rivers 
died, and George Mallory on Everest, it seemed as though 
the death of my friends was following me in peace-time as 


relentlessly as in war. Basanta had spoken of getting an 
invitation from the Maharajah for us to visit Nepal with 
him but, when he found it impossible to resume his work 
there, the idea lapsed. Sam went to visit him in India in 
1924; his reputation as a communist followed him there. 
He wrote that he was tagged by policemen wherever he 
went in Calcutta; but they need not have worried. A week 
or two after his arrival he died of cerebral malaria. After 
Sam’s death our friendship with Basanta gradually failed. 
India re-absorbed him and we changed. 

There came one more death among our friends; a girl 
who had been a friend of Sam’s at Oxford and had married 
another friend at Balliol. They used to come out together 
to Islip with Basanta and talk philosophy. She died in child- 
birth. There had been insujfficient care in the pre-natal 
period and a midwife attended the case without having 
sterilized her hands after attending an infectious case. 
Deaths in childbirth had as particular horror for me now as 
they had for Nancy. I had assisted the midwife at the birth 
of Sam, our fourth child, and could not have believed that 
a natural process like birth could be so abominable in its 
pain and extravagant messiness. Many deaths and a feeling 
of bad luck clouded these years. Islip was no longer a 
country refuge. I found myself resorting to my war-time 
technique of getting through things somehow, anyhow, in 
the hope that they would mend. Nancy was in poor health 
and able to do less and less work. Our finances had been 
improved by an allowance from Nancy’s father that covered 
the extra expense of the new children - we now had about 
two hundred pounds a year — but I decided that cottage life 
with four of them under six years old, and Nancy ill, was not 
good enough. I would have, after all, to take a job. Nancy 

4o6 good-bye to ALL THAT 

and I had always sworn that we would manage somehow so 
that this would not be necessary. 

The only possible job that I could undertake was teaching. 
But I needed a degree, so I completed my thesis, which I 
published under the title of Poetic Unreason and handed in, 
when in print, to the examining board. I was most surprized 
when they accepted it and I had my bachelor’s degree. But 
the problem of an appointment remained, i did not want a 
preparatory or secondary-school job which would keep me 
away from home all day. Nancy did not want anyone else 
but myself and her looking after the children, so there seemed 
no solution. And then the doctor told Nancy that if she 
wished to regain her health she must spend the winter in 
Egypt. In fact, the only appointment that would be at all 
suitable would be a teaching job in Egypt, at a very high 
salary, where there was little work to do. And a week or 
two later (for this is the way things have always happened to 
me in emergencies) I was asked to offer myself as a candidate 
for the post of professor of English Literature at the newly- 
founded Egyptian University at Cairo. I had been recom- 
mended, I found out later, by two or three influential friends, 
among them Arnold Bennett, who has always been a good 
friend to me, and Lawrence, who had served in the war with 
Lord Lloyd, the then High Commissioner of Egypt. The 
salary amounted, with the passage money, to fourteen 
htmdred pounds a year. I fortified these recommendations 
with others, from my neighbour, Colonel John Buchan, 
and from the Earl of Oxford, who had taken a fatherly 
interest in me and often visited Islip. And so was given the 

Among other books written in the Islip period were two 
essays on contemporary poetry. I then held the view that 


there was not such a thing as poetry of constant value; I 
regarded it as a product of its period only having relevance 
in a limited context. I regarded all poetry, in a philosophic 
sense, as of equal merit, though admitting that at any given 
time pragmatic distinctions could be drawn between such 
poems as embodied the conflicts and syntheses of the time 
and were therefore charged with contemporary sagacity, and 
such as were literary hang-overs from a preceding period and 
were therefore inept. I was, in fact, finding only extrinsic 
values for poetry. I found psychological reasons why poems 
of a particular sort appealed to a particular class of reader, 
surviving even political, economic, and religious change. 
I published two other books. One was waste — a ballad- 
opera called John Kemp's JVager. It marked the end of what 
I may call the folk-song period of my life. It was an artificial 
simple play for performance by village societies and has 
been once performed, in California. The newspaper cuttings 
that I was sent described it as delightfully English and 
quaint. A better book was My Head, My Head, a romance 
on the story of Elijah and the Shunamite woman. It was an 
ingenious attempt to repair the important omissions in the 
biblical story; but like all the other prose-books that I had 
written up to this time it failed in its chief object, which 
was to sell. During this period I was willing to undertake 
almost any writing job to bring in money. I wrote a series 
of rhymes for a big map-advertisement for Huntley & 
Palmer’s biscuits (I was paid, but the rhymes never appeared); 
and silly lyrics for a light opera. Lord Clancarty, for which I 
was not paid, because the opera was never staged; and trans- 
lations from Dutch and German carols; and rhymes for 
children’s Christmas annuals; and edited three sixpenny 
pamphlets of verse for Bonn’s popular series - selections 

4o8 good-bye to ALL THAT CLxxx 

from Skelton’s poems, and from my own, and a collection of 
the less familiar nursery rhymes. I did some verse-reviewing 
for the Nation and Athenaum^ but by 1925 I found it more 
and more difficult to be patient with dud books of poetry. 
And they all seemed to be dud now. I had agreed to colla- 
borate with T. S. Eliot in a book about modernist poetry 
to which we were each to contribute essays, but the plan 
fell through; and later I was glad that it had. 

I also made several attempts during these years to rid 
myself of the poison of war-memories by finishing my novel, 
but I had to abandon them. It was not only that they brought 
back neurasthenia, but that I was ashamed at having distorted 
my material with a plot, and yet not sure enough of myself 
to retranslate it into undisguised history. If my scruples 
had been literary and not moral I could easily have compro- 
mised, as many writers have since done, with a pretended 
diary stylistically disguising characters, times, and dates. I 
had found the same difficulty in my last year at Charterhouse 
with a projected novel of public-school life. 


Soj second-class, by P. & O. to Egypt, witb a nurse for the 
children, a new wardrobe in the new cabin-trunks and a good- 
looking motor-car in the hold. Lawrence had written to me: 

Egypt, being so near Europe, is not a savage country. 
The Egyptians . . . you need not dwell among. Indeed, 
it will be a miracle if an Englishman can get to know them. 
The bureaucrat society is exclusive, and lives smilingly 
unaware of the people. Partly because so many foreigners 
come there for pleasure, in the winter; and the other 
women, who live there, must be butterflies too, if they 
would consort with the visitors. 

I thought the salary attractive. It has just been raised. 
The work may be interesting, or may be terrible, according 
to whether you get keen on it, like Hearn, or hate it, like 
Nichols. Even if you hate it, there will be no harm done. 
The climate is good, the country beautiful, the things 
admirable, the beings curious and disgusting; and you 
are stable enough not to be caught broadside by a mere 
dislike for your job. Execute it decently, as long as you 
draw the pay, and enjoy your free hours (plentiful in 
Egypt) more freely. Lloyd will be a good friend. 

Roam about — Palestine. The Sahara oases. The Red 
Sea province. Sinai ( a jolly desert). The Delta Swamps. 
Wilfred Jennings Bramly’s buildings in the Western 
Desert. The divine mosque architecture of Cairo town. 

Yet, possibly, you will not dislike the job. I think the 
coin spins evenly. The harm to you is little, for the family 
will benefit by a stay in the warm (Cairo isn’t warm, in 
winter) and the job won’t dfive you into frantic excesses 



of rage. And the money will be useful. You should save 
a good bit of your pay after the expense of the first six 
months. I recommend the iced coffee at Groppi’s. 

And so, my blessing. 

I had a married half-brother and half-sister in Cairo who 
had both been there since I was a little boy. My brother, 
a leading Government official (at a salary less than my own), 
and his wife viewed my coming to Egypt, I heard, with 
justifiable alarm. They had heard of my political opinions. 
My sister, to whom I was devoted, had no such suspicions 
and wrote a letter of most affectionate welcome. Siegfried 
came to see me off. He said: ‘Do you know who’s on board? 
“The Image!” He’s still in the regiment, going to join the 
battalion in India. Last time I saw him he was sitting in the 
bottom of a dug-out gnawing a chunk of bully-beef like a 
rat.’ The Image had been at my last preparatory school and 
had won a scholarship at the same time as myself; and we 
had been at Wrexham and Liverpool together; and he had 
been wounded with the Second Battalion at High Wood at 
the same time as myself; and now we were travelling out 
East together. A man with whom I had nothing in common; 
there was no natural reason why we should have been thrown 
so often in each other’s company. The ship touched at 
Gibraltar, where we disembarked and bought figs and rode 
round the town. I remembered the cancelled War Office 
telegram and thought what a fool I had been to prefer Rhyl. 
At Port Said a friend of my sister’s helped us through the 
Customs; I was feeling very sea-sick, but I knew that I was 
in the East because he began talking about Kipling and 
Kipling’s wattles of Lichtenburg, and whether they were 
really wattles or some allied plant. And so to Cairo, looking 


out of the windows all the way, delighted at summer fields in 

My sister-in-law advised us agdnst the more exclusive 
residential suburb of Gizereh, where she had just taken a 
flat herself, so with her help we found one at Heliopolis, a 
few miles east of Cairo. We found the cost of living very 
high, for this was the tourist season. But I was able to reduce 
the grocery bill by taking advantage of the more reasonable 
prices of the British army canteen; I presented myself as an 
ofliicer on the pension list. We had two Sudanese servants, 
and, contrary to all that we had been warned about native 
servants, they were temperate, punctual, respectful, and 
never, to my knowledge, stole a thing beyond the remains of 
a single joint of mutton. It seemed queer to me not to look 
after the children or do housework, and almost too good to 
be true to have as much time as I needed for my writing. 

The University was an invention of King Fuad’s, who 
had always been anxious to be known as a patron of the arts 
and sciences. There had been a Cairo University before 
this one, but it had been nationalistic in its policy and, not 
being directed by European experts or supported by Ae 
Government, had soon come to an end. The new University 
had been planned ambitiously. There were faculties of 
science, medicine and letters, with a full complement of 
highly-paid professors; only one or two of these were 
Egyptian, the rest being English, Swedish, French and 
Belgian. The medicine and science faculties were pre- 
dominantly English, but the appointments to the faculty of 
letters were predominantly French. They had been made 
in the summer months when the British High Com- 
missioner was out of Egypt, or he would no doubt have 
discountenanced them. Only one of the French and Belgian 


professors had any knowledge of English, and none of them 
had any knowledge of Arabic. Of the two hundred Egyptian 
students, who were mostly the sons of rich merchants and 
landowners, fewer than twenty had more than a smattering 
of French -just enough for shopping purposes - though 
they had all learned English in the secondary schools. All 
official university correspondence was in Arabic. I was told 
that it was classical Arabic, in which no word is admitted that 
is of later date than Mohammed, but I could not tell the 
difference. The ‘very learned Sheikh’ Graves had to take 
his letters to the post office for interpretation. My twelve 
or thirteen French colleagues were men of the highest 
academic distinction. But two or three English village- 
schoolmasters would have been glad to have undertaken 
their work at one-third of their salaries and done it far 
better. The University building had been a harem-palace 
of the Khedive. It was French in style, with mirrors and 

British officials at the Ministry of Education told me that 
I must keep the British flag flying in the faculty of letters. 
This embarrassed me. I had not come to Egypt as an 
ambassador of Empire, and yet I did not intend to let the 
French indulge in semi-political activities at my expense. 
The dean, M. Gr6goire, was a Belgian, an authority on 
Slav poetry. He was tough, witty, and ran his show very 
plausibly. He had acquired a certain slyness and adaptability 
during the war when, as a civilian in Belgium under German 
occupation, he had edited an xmderground anti-German 
publication. The professor of French Literature had lost 
a leg in France. He greeted me at first in a patronizing way: 
I was his yovmg friend rather than his dear colleague. But 
as soon as he learned that I also had bled in the cause of 


civilization and France I became his most esteemed chum. 
The Frenchmen lectured, but with the help of Arabic 
interpreters, which did not make either for speed or accuracy. 

I found that I was expected to give two lectures a week, but 
the dean soon decided that if the students were ever to 
dispense with the interpreters they must be given special 
instruction in French — which reduced the time for lectures, 
so that I had only one a week to give. This one was pande- 
monium. The students were not hostile, merely excitable 
and anxious to show their regard for me and liberty and 
Zaghlul Pasha and the well-being of Egypt, all at the same 
time. I often had to shout at the top of my loudest barrack- 
square voice to restore order. They had no textbooks of 
any sort; there were no English books in the University 
library, and it took months to get any through the French 
librarian. This was January and they were due for an 
examination in May. They were most anxious to master 
Shakespeare, Byron, and Wordsworth in that time. I had 
no desire to teach Wordsworth and Byron to anyone, and I 
wished to protect Shakespeare from them. I decided to 
lecture on the most rudimentary forms of literature possible. 
I chose the primitive ballad and its development into epic 
and the drama. I thought that this would at least teach them 
the meaning of the simpler literary terms. But English was 
not easy for them, though they had learned it for eight years 
or so in the schools. Nobody, for instance, when I spoke 
of a ballad-maker singing to his harp, knew what a harp was. 
I told them it was what King David played upon, and drew 
a picture of it on the blackboard; at which they shouted out: 
‘O, anur.' But they thought it beneath their dignity to admit 
the existence of ballads in Egypt; though I had myself seen 
the communal ballad-group in action at the hind legs of the 


Sphinx, where a gang of fellaheen was clearing away the 
sand. One of the gang was a chanty-man: his whole job 
was to keep the others moving. The fellaheen did not exist 
for the students; they thought of them as animals. They 
were most anxious to be given printed notes of my lectures 
with which to prepare themselves for the examinations. 
I tried to make the clerical staff of the faculty duplicate some 
for me, but in spite of promises I never got them done. My 
lectures in the end became a dictation of lecture-notes for 
lectures that could not be given - this, at any rate, kept the 
students busy. 

They were interested in my clothes. My trousers were 
the first Oxford trousers that they had seen in Egypt; their 
own were narrow at the ankles. So I set a new fashion. 
One evening I went to dine with the rector of the University. 
Two of my students, sons of Ministers, happened also to be 
invited. They noticed that I was wearing white silk socks 
with my evening dress. Later I heard from the vice-rector, 
Ali Bey Omar, whom I liked best of the University officials, 
that a day or two later he had seen the same students at a 
Government banquet, wearing white silk socks. When they 
looked round on the distinguished assembly they found that 
they were the only white socks present. Ali Bey Omar gave 
a pantomime account of how they tried to loosen their braces 
surreptitiously and stroke down their trousers to hide their 

For some weeks I missed even my single hour a week, 
because the students went on strike. It was Ramadan, and 
they had to fast for a month between sunrise and sunset. 
Between sunset and sunrise they ate rather more than usual 
in compensation, and this dislocation of their digestive 
processes had a bad effect on their nerves. I have forgotten 


the pretext for the strike: it was some trouble about the 
intensive French instruction. The fact was that they wanted 
leisure at home to read up their notes of the earlier work 
of the term in preparation for the examination. The Pro- 
fessor of Arabic, who was one of the few Egyptians with a 
reputation as an orientalist, published a book calling attention 
to pre-Islamic sources of the Koran. His lectures, delivered 
in Arabic, demanded more exertion from them than any of 
the others, so when the examination came round most of 
them absented themselves from the Arabic paper on religious 
grounds. To an orthodox Mohammedan the Koran, being 
dictated by God, can have no pre-Islamic sources. 

I came to know only two of my students fairly well; 
one was a Greek, the other a Turk. The Turk was an 
intelligent, good-natured young man, perhaps twenty years 
old. He was very rich, and had a motor-car in which he twice 
took me for a drive to the Pyramids. He talked both French 
and English fluently, being about the only one (except for 
twelve who had attended a French Jesuit college) who could 
do so. He told me one day that he would not be able to 
attend my next lecture as he was going to be married. I 
asked him whether this was the first or second part of the 
ceremony; he said it was the first. When he returned he 
told me that he had not yet been allowed to see the face of 
his wife, because her family was orthodox; he would only 
see it at the second ceremony. But his sister had been at 
school with her and said that she was pretty and a good sort; 
and her father was a friend of his father’s. Later, the second 
ceremony took place, and he confessed himself perfectly 
satisfied. I learned that it seldom happened that when the 
veil was lifted the bridegroom refused the bride, though 
he had the right to do so; she had a similar right. Usually 


the couple contrived to meet before even the first ceremony. 
The girl would slip the man a note saying: ‘I shall be at 
Maison Cicurel at the hat-counter at three-thirty to-morrow 
afternoon if you want to see me. It will be quite in order 
for me to lift my veil to try on a hat. You will recognize me 
by my purple parasol.’ 

I inquired about the rights of Mohammedan women in 
Egypt. Apparently divorce was simple; the man only had 
to say in the presence of a witness: ‘I divorce you, I divorce 
you, I divorce you,’ and she was divorced. On the other 
hand she was entitled to take her original dowry back with 
her, with the interest that had accrued on it during her 
married life. Dowries were always heavy and divorces com- 
paratively rare. It was considered very low-class to have 
more than one wife; that was a fellaheen habit. I was told 
a story of an Egyptian who was angry with his wife one 
morning because the breakfast-coffee was badly made. He 
shouted out: ‘I divorce you, I divorce you, I divorce you.’ 
‘Oh, my dear,’ she said, ‘now you’ve done it. The servants 
have heard what you said. I must go back to my father with 
my ten thousand pounds and my sixty camels.’ He apolo- 
gized for his hasty temper. ‘We must be remarried,’ he 
said, ‘as soon as possible.’ She reminded him that the law 
prevented them from marrying again unless there were an 
intermediate marriage. So he called in a very old man who 
was watering the lawn and ordered him to marry her. He 
was to understand that it was a marriage of form only. So 
the gardener married the woman and, immediately after the 
ceremony, returned to his watering-pot. Two days later the 
woman died, and the gardener inherited the money and the 

The Greek invited me to tea once. He had three beautiful 


sisters named Pallas, Aphrodite, and Artemis. They gave 
me tea in the garden "with European cakes that they had 
learned to make at the American college. Next door a 
pale-faced man stood on a third-floor balcony addressing the 
world. I asked Pallas what he was saying: ‘Oh,’ she said, 
‘don’t mind him; he’s a millionaire, so the police leave him 
alone. He’s quite mad. He lived ten years in England. 
He’s saying now that they’re burning him up with electricity, 
and he’s telling the birds all his troubles. He says that his 
secretary accuses him of stealing five piastres from him, and 
it isn’t true. Now he’s saying that there can’t be a God 
because God wouldn’t allow the English to steal the fella- 
heen’s camels for the war and not return them. Now he’s 
saying that all religions are very much the same, and that 
Buddha is as good as Mohammed. But really,’ she said, 
‘he’s quite mad. He keeps a little dog in his house, actually 
in his very room, and plays with it and talks to it as though 
it were a human being.’ (Dogs are unclean in Egypt.) She 
told me that in another twenty years the women of Egypt 
would be in control of everything. The feminist movement 
had jpst started, and as the women of Egypt were by far 
the most active and intelligent part of the population, great 
changes were to be expected. She said that neither she nor 
her sisters would stand her father’s attempts to keep them 
in their places. Her brother showed me his library. He was 
doing the arts-course as a preliminary to law. Besides his 
legal textbooks he had Voltaire, Rousseau, a number of 
saucy French novels in paper covers, Shakespeare’s works 
and Samuel Smiles’ Self Helf^ a book which I had never 
met before. He asked my advice about his career, and I 
advised him to go to a European university because an arts 
degree at Cairo would be of little advantage to him. 


Ch. xxxi 


I did not pay an official call at the Residency at first, 
though my brother urged it as etiquette; I decided not to 
until I had seen how things were at the University. I had 
not realized before to what extent the British were in power 
in Egypt. I had been told that Egypt was an independent 
kingdom, but it seemed that my principal allegiance was 
not to the King who had given me my appointment and 
paid me my salary, but to the British High Commissioner. 
Infantry, cavalry, and air squadrons were a reminder of his 
power. The British officials could not understand the 
Egyptians’ desire to be rid of them. They considered Egypt 
most ungrateful for all the painful and difficult administrative 
work that they had put into it since the ’eighties, raising it 
from a bankrupt country to one of the richest in the world. 
None of them took Egyptian nationalism seriously; there 
was no Egyptian nation they said. The Greeks, Turks, 
Syrians, and Armenians who called themselves Egyptians 
had no more right in the country than the British. Before 
the British occupation they had bled the fellaheen white. 
The fellaheen were the only true Egyptians, and it was not 
they who called for freedom. Freedom was mere politics, 
a symptom of the growing riches of the country and the 
smatterings of Western education that they had brought with 
them. The reduction of the British official class in the last 
few years was viewed with disgust. ‘We did all the hard 
work and when we go everything will run down; it’s running 
down already. And they’ll have to call us back, or if not us, 
the dagoes, and we don’t see why they should benefit.’ 
They did not realize how much the vanity of the Egyptians — 
probably the vainest people in the world - was hurt by the 
constant sight of British uniform. 

Egypt now considered itself a European nation. At the 


same time it attempted to take the place of Turkey as the 
leading power of Islam. This led to many anomalies. On 
the same day that the University students made the protest 
against the professor of Arabic’s irreligious views, the 
students of El Azhar, the great Cairo theological college, 
struck against having to wear the Arab dress of kaftan and 
silk headdress and appeared in European dress and tarbouche. 
The tarbouche was the national hat; even British officials 
wore it. I myself had a tarbouche. Being red it attracted 
the heat of the sun; and it was stuffy inside and did not 
protect the back of the head. It would have been difficult 
to find a hat more unsuitable for the climate. 


I DID two useful pieces of educational work in Egypt. 
I ordered a library of standard textbooks of English literature 
for the Faculty Library at the University (from which I hope 
Mr. Bonamy Dobr^e, my successor, profited). And I acted 
as examiner to the diploma class of the Higher Training 
College which provided English teachers for the primary 
and secondary schools. The following is the substance of 
a letter handed to me for information as a member of the 
Board of Examiners concerned: 

To The Principal, 

Higher Training College, Cairo. 


In accordance with your instructions, I beg to submit 

the following statement of the works read by the Diploma 

Class for the forthcoming examination in English Litera- 
ture (1580 to 1788) and in Science: 


1. Shakespeare’s 

2. Lobban’s The Spectator Club, p. 39, and Sir Roger and 

the Widow, p. 51; (iii) 5 Essays of Addison, Fans, 
p. 64; The Vision of Mirza, p. 72; Sir Roger at the 
Assizes, p. 68; Sir Roger at the Abbey, p. 81; Sir 
Roger at the Play, p. 86. 

3. Galsworthy’s Justice. 

4. Dryden: 

(«) With Class 4A, the following poems in Hales’ 
Longer English Poems: 


Ch. xxxli 


(i) Mac Flecknoe (omitting lines 8 3—8 6; 

142-145; 154-155; 160-165; 170- 
181; 1 92-1 97). 

(ii) The SongforSt. Cecilia's Day 32). 

(iii) Alexander's Feast (Hales’, p. 34). 

(^) With Class 4B, the extracts from Absolam and 
Achitophel) in Gwynn’s Masters of English 
Literature^ p. 144-145 (characters of Shaftes- 
bury and Buckingham). 

5. Pope: 

{a) With 4A, in Hales’ Longer English Poemsx The 
Rape of the Lock (omitting lines 27—104; 
221-282; 449—466; 483 to the end). 

(b) With 4B, the character of ‘Atticus,’ in Gwynn’s 
Masters of Eng. Lit.^ p. 18 1. 

6. Johnson’s Vanity of Human Wishes^ in Hales’, p. 65 

(omitting lines 241-343). 

7. Goldsmith’s Vicar of JVakcfield. (All done by 4A; but 

only to the end of chap. 1 9 in 4B.) 

8. Goldsmith’s The Traveller., in Hales’, p. 91. 

9. Gray’s Elegy, in Hales’, p. 79. 

I regret that lack of time has prevented us from studying 
the works of Milton and Spenser or the prose works of 
Dr. Johnson. 


1. Episodes i, 2, 3 and 6 of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 

Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. 

2. The first seven chapters of Sir Ray Lankester’s Science 

from an Easy Chair. 

I have the honour to be. Sir, 

Your obedient servant, etc. 

422 GOOD-BYE TO ALL THAT Ch. xxxn 

These are my contemporary comments, pinned to the 

When some forty years ago England superseded France 
as the controlling European Power in Egypt, English was 
at first taught in the schools as an alternative to French, but 
gradually became dominant as the European administrative 
language, though French remained the chief language of 
commerce and culture. As a result, the young Egyptian, 
who now definitely claims himself a European and denies 
his African inheritance, has come to have two distinct 
minds (switched oiF and on casually) — the irresponsible 
hedonistic cafiS and cinema mind, which leans towards 
French, and the grave moralizing bureaucratic mind, which 
leans towards English. Early English educationalists in 
Egypt shrewdly decided to give their students a moralistic 
character-forming view of English literature; and this 
tradition continues as a counterpoise to the boulevard view 
of life absorbed from translations of French yellow-back 
novels. But the student of 1926 is not so well-instructed in 
English as his predecessor of ten years ago, because the 
English educational staff has gradually been liquidated, and 
the teaching of English is now principally in the hands of 
Egyptians, former students, who are not born teachers or 
disciplinarians. The Western spirit of freedom as naively 
interpreted by the Egyptian student greatly hinders Egyptian 
education. The primary and secondary schools, not to 
mention the University, are always either on strike, threaten- 
ing a strike, or prevented from striking by being given a 
holiday. So work gets more and more behindhand. Even 
the Higher Training College is not free from such disturb- 
ances, which possibly account for the regretted neglect of 


Milton, Spenser, and the prose works of Dr. Johnson. This 
Diploma Class consists of students who, after some twelve 
years’ study of English, the last four or five years under 
English instructors, are now qualifying to teach the language 
and literature to their compatriots. 

‘The Egyptian student is embarrassingly friendly, very 
quick at learning by heart, disorderly, lazy, rhetorical, slow 
to reason, and absolutely without any curiosity for general 
knowledge. The most satisfactory way to treat him is with 
a good-humoured sarcasm, which he respects; but if he once 
gets politically excited nothing is any use but an affected 
violent loss of temper. When introduced to the simpler 
regions of English literature he finds himself most in sym- 
pathy with the eighteenth century; and the English in- 
structor, if he wishes to get any results at all, must be ready 
to regard Shakespeare, Galsworthy and Conan Doyle as 
either immature or decadent figures in relation to the 
classical period. The Science referred to in the attached 
letter is supposed to educate the student in twentieth-century 
rationalism, to which he gives an eighteenth-century cast. 
The following essay is the work of one Mahmoud Mohammed 
Mahmoud of the Diploma Class, and refers principally to 
two chapters of Sir Ray Lankester’s Science from an Easy 

Environment as a Factor in Evolution 

This is the theory of evolutions. Once it was thought 
that the earth’s crust was caused by catastrophes, but 
when Darwin came into the world and had a good deal 
of philosophy, he said: ‘All different kinds of species 
differ gradually as we go backwards and there is no 
catastrophes, and if we apply the fact upon previous 


predecessors we reach simpler and simpler predecessors, 
until we reach the Nature.’ Man, also, is under the 
evolutions. None can deny this if he could deny the sun 
in daylight. A child from the beginning of his birthday 
possesses instincts like to suckle his food from the mamel of 
his mother and many others. But he is free of habits and 
he is weak as anything. Then he is introduced into a house 
and usually finds himself among parents, and his body is 
either cleansed or left to the dirts. This shows his environ- 
ment. Superficial thinkers are apt to look on environ- 
ment as (at best) a trifle motive in bringing up, but 
learned men believe that a child born in the presence 
of some women who say a bad word, this word, as 
believed by them, remains in the brain of the child until 
it ejects. 

Environment quickly supplies modification. The life 
of mountainous goats leads them to train themselves on 
jumping. The camel is flat-footed with hoofs for the sand. 
Some kind of cattle were wild in the past but lived in plain 
lands and changed into gentle sheep. The frog when 
young has her tail and nostrils like the fish, suitable for life 
at sea, but changing her environment, the tail decreased. 
The sea is broad and changeable, so those who live at sea 
are changeable and mysterious. Put a cow in a dirty damp 
place and she will become more and more slender until 
she die. Also horses; horse had five fingers on his legs 
but now one only from running for water in the draught. 
Climate also afiPects bodily habits of the dear Europeans 
who live in Egypt. They who were smart and patient and 
strong with a skin worth the name of weatherproof become 
also fatigable and fond of leisure. . . . From the theory 
we learn that hiunan beings should be improved like the 


beasts by creating healthy youngs and by good Freubel 

‘The next short specimen essay by Mohammed Mahmoud 
Mohammed is in answer to the question: “What impression 
do you get from Shakespeare of the character of Lady 

The Character of Lady Macbeth 

Sir, to write shortly, Lady Macbeth was brave and 
venturesome; but she had no tact. She says to Macbeth: 
‘Now the opportunity creates itself, lose it not. Where is 
your manlihood in these suitable circumstances? I have 
children and I know the love of a mother’s heart. But you 
must know I would dash the child’s head and drive away 
the boneless teeth which are milking me rather than to 
give a promise and then leave it.’ 

Macbeth says: ‘But we may fail.’ 

‘Fail?’ says L. M. ‘But stick to the point and we will 
not fail. Leave the rest to me. I shall put drugs in the 
grooms’ drink and we shall ascuse them.’ 

Macbeth says: ‘You are fit to lay men-children only.’ 
The impression on the reader becomes very great and 
feels with anger. 

‘And this from the hand of Mahmoud Mahmoud 
Mohammed, offered as a formal exercise in English com- 

The Best Use of Leisure Time 

Leisure time is a variety to tireful affairs. God Almighty 
created the Universe in six days and took a rest in the 

426 GOOD-BYE TO ALL THAT Ch. rxxii 

seventh. He wished to teach us the necessity of leisure 
time. Man soon discovered by experience that ‘All work 
and no play makes Jack a dull boy.’ But this leisure time 
may be dangerous and ill-used if the mind will not take 
its handle and move it wisely to different directions. Many 
people love idleness. It is a great prodigality which leads to 
ruin. Many Egyptians spend their times in caffs longing 
for women and tracking them with their eyes, which corrupts 
and pollutes manners. They are perplexed and annoyed 
by the length of daytime. Others try to have rest through 
gumbling, which is the scourge of society and individual. 
But let us rather enjoy external nature, the beautiful leavy 
trees, the flourishing fields, and the vast lawns of green 
grass starred with myriads of flowers of greater or small 
size. There the birds sing and build their nests, the 
meandering canals flow with fresh water, and the happy 
peasants, toiling afar from the multitude of town life, 
purify the human wishes from personal stain. Also 
museums are instructive. It is quite wrong to keep to 
usual work and fatigable studies, but quite right to free 
our minds from the web of wordly affairs in which they 
are entangled. 

Yes, let us with the lark leave our beds to enjoy the 
cool breeze before sunrise. Let us when the lasy or 
luxurious are snoring or sunk in their debaucheries sit 
under the shady trees and meditate. We can think of God, 
the river and the moon, and enjoy the reading of Gray’s 
Eleg^ to perfection. We shall brush the dues on the lawn 
at sunrise, for. 

A country life is sweat 
In moderate cold and heat. 


Or we may read the Best Companions, books full of 
honourable passions, wise moral and good pathos: reading 
maketh a full man, nobody will deny Bacon. Or we may 
easily get a musical instrument at little price. ‘Every 
schoolboy knows’ that music is a moral law which gives 
a soul to the universe. Criminals can be cured by the 
sweet power of music. The whale came up from the 
dark depths of the sea to carry the Greek musician because 
it was affected by the sweet harmonies which hold a 
mirror up to nature. Are we not better than the whale? 
Also gymnastic clubs are spread everywhere. Why do a 
youth not pass his leisure time in widdening his chest? 
Because a sound mind is in a sound body. Yet it is a 
physiological fact that the blacksmith cannot spend his 
leisure time in striking iron or the soldier in military 
exercises. The blacksmith may go to see the Egyptian 
Exhibition, and the soldier may go to the sea to practice 
swimming or to the mountains to know its caves in order 
that he may take shelter in time of war. 

Milton knew the best uses of leisure time. He used to 
sit to his books reading, and to his music playing, and so 
put his name among the immortals. That was the case 
of Byron, Napoleon, Addison, and Palmerstone. And if 
a man is unhappy, says an ancient philosopher, it is his 
own fault. He can be happy if his leisure time brings 
profit and not disgrace. 

‘The Diploma Class students are supposed to be four 
years in advance of my own, and, not being of the moneyed 
class, are more interested in passing their examinations with 
distinction. Also, since their careers as teachers of English 
depend on the continuance of the British military occupation, 


they take the morality of this regime more seriously than 
the University students, who are mostly the sons of pashas. 
These, with few exceptions, suffer from the bankruptcy of 
modern Egyptian life; they are able to take neither European 
culture nor their own Islamic traditions seriously. So far as 
I can make out from talking with the more intelligent of 
them, what Egypt asks for is a European government and 
education free of European political domination, but with 
a European technical personnel in the key positions, which 
it cannot do without and will pay highly for. Egypt can 
never be a great independent spiritual or political force in 
the Near East, but because of its wealth it can become at 
least the commercial centre of Islamic orthodoxy. Turkey 
is already a modern European country; Egypt will remain 
for some time yet eighteenth-century in spirit - a compromise 
between political romanticism and religious classicism. For 
a generation or two yet the descendants of the landowners 
enriched by European administration will continue to 
“spend their times in caffs longing for women,” and to be 
“perplexed and annoyed by the length of daytime,” while 
“the happy peasants” go on “toiling afar from the multitude 
of town life.” And my professional successors will continue 
to become “fatigable and fond of leisure.” * 

For I had already decided to resign. So had the professor 
of Latin, my only English colleague. And the one-legged 
professor of French Literature, who was an honest man. 
The others stayed on. 

The Egyptians were most hospitable. I attended one 
heavy banquet, at the Semiramis Hotel, given by the Minister 
of Education. Tall Sudanese waiters dressed in red robes 
served a succession of the most magnificent dishes that I 

Ch. xxxn 


have seen anywhere, even on the films. I remember particu- 
larly a great model of the Cairo Citadel in ice, with the doors 
and windows filled with caviare which one scooped out with 
a golden Moorish spoon. I heard recently that this banquet, 
which must have cost thousands, has not yet been paid for. 
I found little to do in Egypt (since I had no intention of 
mixing with the British official class, joining the golf dub, 
or paying official calls) but eat coffee-ices at Groppi’s, visit 
the open-air cinemas and sit at home in our flat at Heliopolis 
and get on with writing. My sister, who lived near, con- 
tinued sisterly. During the season of the Khamsin, a hot 
wind which sent the temperature up on one occasion to 1 13 
degrees in the shade, I put the finishing touches to a book 
called Lars Porsenay or The Future of Swearing and Improper 
Language. I also worked on a study of the English ballad. 

The best thing that I saw in Egypt was the noble face of 
old King Seti the Good unwrapped of its mummy-doths in 
the Cairo Museum. Nearly all the best things in Egypt 
were dead. The funniest thing was a French bedroom farce 
played in Arabic by Syrian actors in a native theatre. The 
men and women of the cast had, for religious reasons, to keep 
on opposite sides of the stage. They sang French songs (in 
translation), varying the tunes with the quarter-tones and 
shrieks and trills of their own music. The audience talked all 
the time and ate peanuts, oranges, sunflower-seeds and 
heads of lettuces. 

I went to call on Lord Lloyd just before the close of the 
academic year, which was at the end of May. Soon after I 
was invited to dine at the Residency. I won twenty piastres 
off him at bridge and was told to collect it from his A.D.C. 
He asked me how I found Egypt and I said: ‘All right,* with 
an intonation that made him catch me up quickly. ‘Only all 

Ch. xxxn 


right?’ That was all that passed between us. He believed 
in his job more than I did in mine. He used to drive through 
Cairo in a powerful car, with a Union Jack flying from it, 
at about sixty miles an hour. He had motor-cyclist outriders 
to clear the way - Sir Lee Stack, the Sirdar, had been killed 
the year before while driving through Cairo and a traffic jam 
had materially helped his assassins. One day I was shown 
the spot near the Ministry of Education where it happened; 
there was a crowd at the spot which I at first took for a party 
of sightseers, but the attraction proved to be a naked woman 
lying on the pavement, laughing wildly and waving her 
arms. She was one of the hashish dope-cases that were very 
common in Egypt. The crowd was jeering at her; the 
policeman a few yards off paid no attention. 

I attended a levee at the Abdin Palace, King Fuad’s 
Cairo residence. It began early, at nine o’clock in the morning. 
The King gave honourable precedence to the staff of the 
University; it came in soon after the diplomatic corps and 
the Ministers of the Crown and some time before the army. 
While still in England I had been warned to buy suitable 
clothes -a morning coat and trousers -for this occasion. 
To be really correct my coat should have had green facings, 
green being the national colour of Egypt, but I was told 
that this would not be insisted upon. Opinions differed 
greatly as to what was suitable Court-dress; most of the 
French professors arrived in full evening dress with swallow- 
tail coats and white waistcoats, others wore ordinary dinner 
jackets. Most of them had opera-hats; they all had decora- 
tions round their necks. They looked like stragglers from 
an all-night fancy-dress ball. After signing my name in the 
two large hotel registers, one belonging to the King and the 
pther to the Queen, I was given a refreshing rice-drink, a 


courtesy of the Queen’s. I then went up the noble marble 
staircase. On every other step stood an enormous black 
soldier, royally uniformed, with a lance in his hand. My 
soldier’s eye commented on their somewhat listless attitudes; 
but, no doubt, they pulled themselves smartly to attention 
when the Egyptian army general staff went past. I had 
been warned that when I met King Fuad I must not be 
surprised at anything extraordinary I heard; a curious 
wheezing cry was apt to burst from his throat occasionally 
when he was nervous. When he was a child his family had 
been shot up by an assassin employed by interested relatives; 
and Fuad had taken cover under a table and, though 
wounded, had survived. We were moved from room to room. 
At last a quiet Turkish-looking gentleman of middle age, 
wearing regulation Court-dress, greeted us deferentially in 
French; I took him for the Grand Chamberlain. I bowed and 
said the same thing in French as the professor in front of me 
had said, and expected to be led next to the Throne Room. 
But the next stage was the cloak-room once more. I had 
already met King Fuad. And no Eastern magnificence or 
wheezing cry. 

I attended a royal soiree a few days later. The chief event 
was a theatrical variety show. The performance was pre- 
dominantly Italian. King Fuad had been educated in Italy, 
where he attained the rank of captain in the Italian cavalry, 
and had a great regard for Italian culture. (He was ignorant 
of English, but was a good French scholar.) The perform- 
ance belonged to the 1870’s. There was a discreet blonde 
shepherdess who did a hopping dance in ankle-length skirts, 
and a discreet tenor who confined his passion to his top notes; 
and there was a well-behaved comedian who made nice little 
jokes for the Queen. I clapped him, because I liked him 

433 GOOD-BYE TO ALL THAT Ch. xxxii 

better than the others, and everybody looked round at me; 
I realized that I had done the wrong thing. An official 
whispered to me that it was a command performance and 
that the actors were, therefore, entitled to no applause. 
Unless His Majesty was himself amused the turns must be 
greeted in silence. I was wearing Court-dress again but, 
not to be outdone by the Frenchmen, I had put on my three 
campaigning medals — and wished that I had that St. Anne 
of the Third Class with the Crossed Swords. And the re- 
freshments! I will not attempt to describe that Arabian Night 
buffet; it was so splendid indeed that it has remained a mere 
blur in my memory. I pocketed some particularly fantastic 
confections to bring home to the children. 

What caused me most surprise in Egypt was the great 
number of camels there. I had thought of them only as 
picture-postcard animals. I had not expected to see thousands 
of them in the streets of Cairo, holding up the motor traffic — 
in long trains, tied head to rump, with great sacks of green 
fodder on their backs. 

Our children were a great anxiety. They had to drink 
boiled milk and boiled water and be watched all the time to 
prevent them from taking off their topees and blue veils. 
Then they all got measles and were carried off to an isolation 
hospital, where they were fed on all the things that we had 
been particular since their birth not to give them; and the 
native nurses stole their toys. They returned very thin and 
wretched-looking and we wondered if we should ever get 
them safely home. We booked our passages some time at 
the end of May. We had only just enough money for third- 
class on a small Italian boat with a cargo of onions. We 
disembarked at Venice and stopped a day there. After 
Egypt, Venice seemed like Heaven. It could never again be 


to me what it was that day. I had a European egg in Venice. 
Egyptian eggs were about the size of a pigeon’s egg and 
always tasted strongly of the garlic which seemed to form a 
large part of the diet of the Egyptian fowl. 

There are plenty of caricature scenes to look back on in 
Egypt. Among them, for instance, myself dressed in my 
smart yellow gaberdine suit and seated at a long, baize- 
covered table in the Faculty Conference Room. In front of 
me is a cup of Turkish coffee, a sun helmet, and a long record 
in French of the minutes of the last meeting. I am talking 
angry bad French at my Belgian and French colleagues 
in support of the young professor of Latin, who has just 
leaped to his feet, pale with hatred. He is declaring in worse 
French that he positively refuses to make a forced contribu- 
tion of fifty piastres to a memorial wreath for one of the 
Frenchmen (who had just died), since he was never con- 
sulted. I am declaring that neither will I, blustering to him 
in English that so far as I am concerned all dead Frenchmen 
can go bury themselves at their own expense. The lofty, 
elegant room, once a harem drawing-room — a portrait of the 
late Khedive, with a large rent in it, hanging at a tipsy slant 
at one end of the room; at the other a large glass showcase, 
full of Egypto-Roman brass coins, all muddled together, 
their labels loose, in one corner. Through the window 
market-gardens, buffaloes, camels, countrywomen in black. 
Around the table my horrified, shrugging colleagues, turning 
to each other and saying: ‘Inoui. . . . Inoui. . . .’ And 
outside the rebellious shouts of our students working them- 
selves up for another strike. 

The rest makes no more than conversation — of the 
Government clerk who was so doubly unfortunate as to be 
run over by a racing-car and to find that the driver was the 



eldest son of the Minister of Justice; and of the rich girl 
in search of a husband who went as paying guest at fifteen 
guineas a week to the senior Government official’s wife, 
agreeing to pay for all wines and cigars and extras when 
society came to dine, and who, meeting only senior Govern- 
ment officials and their wives, complained that she did not 
get her money’s worth; and of my night visit to the temple 
of a headless monkey-god, full of bats; and of the English 
cotton nianufacturer who defended the conditions in his 
factory on the ground that the population of Egypt since the 
British came had been increasing far too rapidly, and that 
pulmonary consiimption was one of the few checks on it; 
and of the student’s mother who, at the sports, said how 
much she regretted having put him on the mantelpiece 
when a baby and run off (being only twelve years old) to 
play with her dolls; and of ‘The Limit,’ so named by 
Australians during the war, who told my three years’ fortune 
by moonlight under the long shadow of the pyramid of 
Cheops - told it truly and phrased it falsely; and of the 
Arab cab-driver who was kind to his horses; and of my 
visit to Chawki Bey, the national poet of Egypt, in his 
Moorish mansion by the Nile, who was so like Thomas 
Hardy and in whose presence his sons, like good Turks, 
sat dutifully silent; and of the beggar in the bazaar with 
too many toes; and of the veiled vengeance there who tried 
to touch us; and of the official who, during the war, on a 
dream of dearth, had played Joseph, dumping half the 
wheat of Australia in Egypt, where it found no buyers and 
was at last eaten by donkeys and camels, and who told me 
that the whole secret of vivid writing was to use the active 
rather than the passive voice — to say ‘Amr-ibn-el-Ass 
conquered Egypt,’ rather than ‘Egypt was conquered by 


Amr-ibn-el-Ass’; and of a visit to ancient dead Heliopolis 
with its lovely landscape of green fields, its crooked palm 
trees, its water-wheels turned by oxen, and its single obelisk; 
and of the other Heliopolis, a brand-new dead town on the 
desert’s edge, built by a Belgian company, complete with 
racecourse and Luna Park, where the R.A.F. planes flew 
low at night among the houses, and where the bored wives 
of disappointed ofiicials wrote novels which they never 
finished, and painted a little in water-colours; and of the little 
garden of our flat where I went walking on the first day 
among the fruit-trees and flowering shrubs, and how I came 
upon no less than eight lean and mangy cats dozing in the 
beds, and never walked there again; and of the numerous 
kites, their foul counterpart in the sky and in the palm trees; 
and, lastly, of that fabulous cross-breed between kite and 
cat which woke us every morning at dawn, a creature kept 
as a pet in a neighbouring tenement inhabited by Syrians 
and Greeks, whose strangled cock-a-doodle-doo was to me 
the dawn-cry of modern Egypt. (Empty cigar-box -no 
applause - and I thank you.) 

So back to Islip; much to the disappointment of my 
parents, who thought that I had at last seen reason and settled 
down to an appointment suited equally to my needs and my 
talents; and to the undisguised relief of my sister-in-law. 

The story trails off here. But to end it with the return from 
Egypt would be to round it o£F too bookishly, to finish on 
a note of comfortable suspense, an anticipation of the endless 
human sequel. I am taking care to rob you of this. It is not 
that sort of story. From a historical point of view it must 
be read, rather, as one of gradual disintegration. By the 
summer of 1926 the disintegration was already well- 
advanced. Incidents of autobiographical pertinence became 
fewer and fewer. 

When we came back Nancy’s health was very much better, 
but none of us had any money left. There were a number of 
books to be sold, chiefly autographed first editions of modern 
poets; and Lawrence came to the rescue with a copy of his 
Seven Pillars marked, ‘Please sell when read,’ which fetched 
over three hundred pounds. 

In 1927 Jonathan Cape wrote to me suggesting that I 
should write a book for boys about Lawrence. There 
was not much time to do it to have it ready for autumn 
publication (about two months) -and Lawrence was in 
India and I had to get his permission and send parts of the 
manuscript there for him to read and pass. Lowell Thomas 
anticipated me with a Boy’s Book of Colonel Lawrence^ so I 
decided to make mine a general book, three times the length 
of his, working eighteen hours a day at it. Most of those 
to whom I wrote for information about Lawrence, including 
His Majesty the King, gave me their help. The only rebuff 
I got was from George Bernard Shaw, who wrote me the 
following postcard: 



Ch. xxxii 


Eyot St. Lawrence, 

Welwyn, Herts. 

ith June 1927. 

A great mistake. You might as well try to write a 
funny book about Mark Twain. T. E. has got all out of 
himself that is to be got. His name will rouse expectations 
which you will necessarily disappoint. Cape will curse his 
folly for proposing such a thing, and never give you 
another commission. Write a book (if you must) about 
the dullest person you know; clerical if possible. Give 
yourself a chance. 

G. B. S. 

Just before Christmas the book was selling at the rate of 
ten thousand copies a week. I heard later that Shaw had 
mistaken me for my Daily Mail brother. 

Shortly afterwards I had a reply, delayed for nine months, 
to an application that I had made, when things were bad, 
for an appointment as English lecturer in an Adult Education 
scheme. I was told that my qualifications were not considered 
sufficient. By this time I had lost all my academic manners 
and wrote wishing the entire committee in Baluchistan, to 
be tickled to death by wild butterflies. 

In 1 927, in a process of tidying-up, I published a collected 
book of my poems. One of the later ones began: 

This, I admit, Death is terrible to me. 

To no man more so, naturally. 

And I have disenthralled my natural terror 
Of every comfortable philosopher 
Or tall dark doctor of divinity. 

Death stands at last in his true rank and order. 


Tlie book was selective rather than collective, intended as 
a disavowal of over half the poetry that I had so far 
printed. As Skelton told Fame, speaking of his regretted 
poem Apollo Whirled up his Chair, I had done what 
I could to scrape out the scrolls. To erase it for ever 
out of her ragman’s rolls. But I still permitted anthologists 
to print some of the rejected pieces if they paid highly 
enough — if they wanted them, that was their business 
and I was glad of the money. On the other hand I 
stopped contributing new poems to English and American 
periodicals. My critical writings I did not tidy up; but 
let 'them go out of print. In 1927 I began learning to 
print on a hand-press. In 1928 I continued learning to 

On May 6th, 1929 Nancy and I suddenly parted company. 
I had already finished with nearly all my other leading and 
subsidiary characters, and dozens more whom I have not 
troubled to put in. I began to write my autobiography on 
May 23rd and write these words on July 24th, my thirty- 
fourth birthday; another month of final review and I shall 
have parted with myself for good. I have been able to draw 
on contemporary records for most of the facts, but in many 
passages memory has been the only source. My memory 
is good but not perfect. For instance, I can after two hearings 
remember the tune and words of any song that I like, and 
never afterwards forget them; but there are always odd 
discrepancies between my version and the original. So here, 
there must be many slight errors of one sort or another. No 
incidents, however, are invented or embellished. Some are, 
no doubt, in their wrong order; I am uncertain, for example, 
of the exact date and place of the megaphoned trench- 
conversation between the Royal Welch and the Germans, 


though I have a contemporary record of it. I am not sure 
of some of the less-important names (even of Lance-corporal 
Baxter’s, but it was at least a name like Baxter). To avoid 
the suggestion of libel I have disguised two names. Also, 
I make a general disclaimer of such opinions as I have 
recorded myself as holding from chapter to chapter, on 
education, nature, war, religion, literature, philosophy, 
psychology, politics, and so on. This is a story of what I 
was, not what I am. Wherever I have used auto- 
biographical material in previous books and it does not 
tally with what I have written here, this is the story and 
that was literature. 

I find myself wondering whether it is justified as a story. 
Yet I seem to have done most of the usual storybook things. 
I had, by the age of twenty-three, been born, initiated into 
a formal religion, travelled, learned to lie, loved unhappily, 
been married, gone to the war, taken life, procreated my 
kind, rejected formal religion, won fame, and been killed. 
At the age of thirty-four many things still remain undone. 
For instance, I have never been on a journey of exploration, 
or in a submarine, aeroplane or civil court of law (except a 
magistrate’s court on the charge of ‘riding a vehicle, to wit 
a bicycle, without proper illumination, to wit a rear lamp’). 
I have never mastered any musical instrument, starved, 
committed civil murder, found buried treasure, engaged 
in unnatural vice, slept with a prostitute, or seen a 
corpse that has died a natural death. On the other 
hand, I have ridden on a locomotive, won a prize at the 
Olympic Games, become a member of the senior common- 
room at one Oxford college before becoming a member 
of the junior common-room at another, been examined 
by the police on suspicion of attempted murder, passed at 


dusk in a hail-storm within half a mile of Stromboli when 
it was in eruption, had a statue of myself erected in my 
lifetime in a London park, and learned to tell the truth - 

The End 

Dedicatory Epilogue 


Laura Riding 

I HAVE used your World's End as an introductory motto, 
but you will be glad to find no reference at all to yourself 
in the body of this book. I have not mentioned the Survey 
of Modernist Poetry and the Pamphlet against Anthologies as 
works of collaboration between you and me, though these 
books appear in publishers’ catalogues and obviously put 
much of my own previous critical writing out of account. 
And though I have mentioned printing, I have not given 
details of it, or even said that it was with you, printing and 
publishing in partnership as The Seizin Press. Because of 
you the last chapters have a ghostly look. 

The reason of all this is, of course, that by mentioning 
you as a character in my autobiography I would seem to be 
denying you in your true quality of one living invisibly, 
against kind, as dead, beyond event. And yet the silence is 
false if it makes the book seem to have been written forward 
from where I was instead of backward from where you are. 
If the direction of the book were forward I should still be 
inside the body of it, arguing morals, literature, politics, 
suffering violent physical experiences, falling in and out of 
love, making and losing friends, enduring blindly in time; 
instead of here outside, writing this letter to you, as one 
also living against kind - indeed, rather against myself. 

You know the autobiography of that Lord Herbert of 
Cherbury whose son founded the Royal Welch Fusiliers; 
how he was educated as a gentleman, studied at Oxford, 
married young, travelled, played games, fought in Northern 



France and wrote books; until at last his active life ended 
with a sudden clap of thunder from the blue sky which did 
‘so comfort and cheer’ him that he resolved at last, at this 
sign, to print his book De Feritate, concerning truth. If 
you were to appear in my De Feritate it could only be as 
‘this loud though yet gentle noise . . . one fair day in the 
summer, my casement being opened towards the south, the 
sun shining clear, and no wind stirring.’ 

For could the story of your coming be told between an 
Islip Parish Council Meeting and a conference of the 
professors of the Faculty of Letters at Cairo University? 
How she and I happening by seeming accident upon your 
teasing Quids, were drawn to write to you, who were in 
America, asking you to come to us. How, though you knew 
no more of us than we of you, and indeed less (for you knew 
me at a disadvantage, by my poems of the war), you forth- 
with came. And how there was thereupon a unity to which 
you and I pledged our faith and she her pleasure. How we 
went together to the land where the dead parade the streets 
and there met with demons and returned with the demons 
still treading behind. And how they drove us up and down 
the land. 

That was the beginning of the end, and the end and after 
is yours. Yet I must relieve your parable of all anecdote of 
mine. I must tell, for instance, that in its extreme course 
in April last I re-lived the changes of many past years. That 
when I must suddenly hurry off to Ireland I found myself 
on the very boat, from Fishguard, that had been my hospital- 
boat twelve years before. That at Limerick I met Old 
Ireland herself sitting black-shawled and mourning on the 
station bench and telling of the Fall. And so to the beautiful 
city of Sligo celebrated in song by my father. And the next 


train back, this time by the Wales of the Royal Welch 
Fusiliers. And the next day to Rouen with you and her, to 
recollect the hill-top where you seemed to die as the one 
on which I had seemed to die thirteen years before. And 
then immediately back. And then, later in the same month, 
my sudden journey to Hilton in Huntingdon, to a farm with 
memories of her as I first knew her, to burst in upon - as it 
happened — David Garnett (whom I had never met before), 
gulping his vintage port and scandalizing him with my 
soldier’s oaths as I denied him a speaking part in your 

After which. 

After which, anecdotes of yours, travesties of the parable 
and so precious to me as vulgar glosses on it. How on 
April 27th, 1929 it was a fourth-storey window and a stone 
area and you were dying. And how it was a joke between 
Harold the stretcher-bearer and myself that you did not 
die, but survived your dying, lucid interval. 

After which. 

After which, may I recall, since you would not care to do 
so yourself, with what professional appreciation (on May 
1 6th) Mr. Lake is reported to have observed to those that 
stood by him in the operating theatre: ‘It is rarely that one 
sees the spinal-cord exposed to view - especially at right- 
angles to itself.’ 

After which. 

After which, let me also recall on my own account my 
story The Shout, which, though written two years ago, belongs 
here; blind and slow like all prophecies — it has left you out 
entirely. And, because you are left out, it is an anecdote of 

After which. 


After which, even anecdotes fail. No more anecdotes. 
And, of course, no more politics, religion, conversations, 
literature, arguments, dances, drunks, time, crowds, games, 
fun, unhappiness. I no longer repeat to myself: ‘He who 
shall endure to the end, shall be savM.’ It is enough now 
to say that I have endured. My lung, still barometric of 
foul weather, speaks of endurance, as your spine, barometric 
of fair weather, speaks of salvation. 




^ccn. No...- 

1. Books may be retained for a period not 
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